Indonesia’s New Law on Mass Organizations Ignites Protest

The Indonesian Parliament is set to approve a bill that would amend the law governing mass organizations but human rights groups and experts have warned against its repressive provisions.

The latest draft requires mass organizations to adhere to the country’s 1945 Constitution and the principles of Pancasila, a state philosophy about the belief in one God.

Meanwhile, local groups are worried that the bill would give broad powers to the government which might be used by corrupt authorities to undermine the independence of various mass organizations, especially those which are critical to government policies.

Groups like the Red Cross will be affected by Indonesia's new Bill on Mass Organizations. Photo by Jefri Tarigan, Copyright @Demotix (5/8/2012)

Groups like the Red Cross will be affected by Indonesia's new Bill on Mass Organizations. Photo by Jefri Tarigan, Copyright @Demotix (5/8/2012)

The initiative to replace the 1985 Mass Organizations law was actually initially supported by many people who wanted the government to regulate local groups such as the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) which often uses violent methods to promote its advocacies.

Indonesian legislators quickly dismissed the opinion of UN experts and hinted that the Parliament might approve the controversial measure next month.

Pollyandra supports legislators in opposing the views of UN experts:

For once I stand by the government's stance to dismiss the “experts'” warning/claim. As much as I appreciate the values of western ideas of human rights & democracy, enforcing foreign ideologies into a society has never worked nor will the effect last. Change has to be gradual and come from the inside.

Amir Effendi Siregar, a member of the Independent Coalition for the Democratization of Broadcasting, warns against the negative impact of the regulation on media groups:

This regulation is dangerous for media, press and journalism organizations. How can journalists not mention ideologies, which are against Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution, in their publications?

In a democratic system, media and professional journalists have an obligation to give the audience comprehensive information seen from different angles.

Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, urges Indonesia to pass laws that would not violate the principles of ‘pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness’:

The State must ensure that any restriction on the rights to freedom of association, expression, and religion is necessary in a democratic society, proportionate to the aim pursued, and does not harm the principles of pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness

Associations should be free to determine their statutes, structures and activities and to make decisions without State interference

The UN expert also reacted to the proposal to suspend organizations even without a court order:

Let me stress that suspension of associations should only be sanctioned by an impartial and independent court in case of a clear and imminent danger resulting in a flagrant violation of domestic laws, in compliance with international human rights law

Colson called the bill a ‘legal dragon’ in the making:

A special committee of the House of Representatives is busy creating a legal dragon. It’s gonna hit civil organizations. They will be banned if authorities label them as a threat to the “unity and safety of the Unitary Republic of Indonesia”. Criteria which are extremely vague and prone to arbitrariness.

This legal dragon in the making will seriously restrict fundamental liberties of freedom of association & assembly and freedom of thought & expression in Indonesia. For instance it potentially will effectively prevent civil organizations from revealing, denouncing, let alone charging, criminal practices, including human trafficking or corruption. Moreover administrations of these organizations will be under permanent surveillance and control of government.

What would be the impact of strictly implementing the Pancasila philosophy? Colson thinks several global NGOs would be banned in the country:

Strictly interpreted Red Cross and Care will be off limits. Just like Oxfam and Save the Children. Let alone the Swedish Humanistic Association or any of it’s sister organizations. Labour unions based on a social-democratic philosophy will also be forbidden.

Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights is also opposing several provisions of the bill. Meanwhile, a coalition of local organizations published a joint statement last February 18 entitled ‘The State Again Attempts to Put a Leash on Freedom of Association and Organization.’ The coalition recommends the following:

1. Revoke Law No. 8 year 1995 on Mass Organization and restore the regulation of mass organizations to the appropriate and relevant legal construct, namely to a Law on Association for membership‐based organization and the Law on Foundation for non-membership‐based organization.

2. Cease the deliberation and enactment of the Bill on Mass Organization and prioritize the deliberation of the Bill on Association, which has been included in the National Legislation Program (Prolegnas) for 2010‐2014. The Bill on Association has stronger legal basis but has been placed as a lesser priority to the Bill on Mass Organization, which is a misguided and lack of clarity draft bill.

But Pahala Nainggolan, executive director of Yayasan Bina Integrasi Edukasi, appreciates the provision stipulating a government review of financial records of organizations:

The registration of non-profit organizations to the government is not a mechanism of control. Each organization needs to register to be assisted with its accountability measures in the long term. Then the Home Ministry can establish a database and website containing financial and operational reports of all registered organizations.

This can lead to better mechanisms to enforce regulations. Organizations that do not submit their reports can be removed from the list. Society can get guarantees of the legitimacy of an organization by accessing the website and the government can provide assurances of transparency and accountability for each organization listed there.

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