Indonesia is globally strategic for a number of reasons: just over ten years ago it emerged from dictatorship and is now the world’s third largest democracy, it is the most populous Muslim country, the world’s fourth most populous country, it straddles the sea-lanes between Asia/Oceania and much of the rest of the world, and its tropical forest area is the world’s third largest and one of the most biologically diverse. It is, however, as the world’s largest archipelagic state and influenced by El Niño and La Niña weather systems, very vulnerable to climate change and, bracketed by shifting tectonic plates, subject to frequent seismic disasters. Indonesia also has one of the highest poverty rates in Asia with 35 million living in poverty and 9.43 million people unemployed. As a country of global importance, Indonesia is, therefore, facing enormous responsibilities and challenges.
However, ranked as it is as 111th out of 180 countries for corruption, and seen as having the most dysfunctional legal system in Asia, Indonesia is severely hampered in its ability to deal with these. The deleterious consequences of weak rule of law, that is the product of such a system, are all too evident in Indonesia: injustice, human rights abuse, conflict and distorted scarce resource allocation manifested by poverty, unemployment, disaffection, extremism and environmental destruction.
Indeed, in 2002, much to the chagrin of the Indonesian government, United Nations special rapporteur Param Cumaraswamy, after investigating judicial graft in Indonesia and the independence of the judiciary, branded Indonesia’s legal system as one of the worst he had come across. Since then the U.N., Amnesty International and the Asian Development Bank have reported that detainees are routinely tortured for confessions, sexual favours are extracted from female suspects, and bribes are regularly demanded by corrupt judges, prosecutors and police. Only recently, a survey by the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute Foundation (YBHI) found that about 70 to 80 percent of detainees in the country suffered violence under police investigation. In fact, Indonesia’s legal system is so seriously dysfunctional it cannot be considered credible. Failure to pay, for example, a prosecutor up to the US$45,000 some demand in drug cases, often in collusion with judges and lawyers, can lead, very tragically, to the innocent being executed.
Compliance in dysfunction
Such a dysfunctional justice system can only exist because of compliance with it by legal officers such as lawyers, prosecutors, court officials. etc. Unfortunately, Indonesian lawyers, rather than challenging the dysfunction are, through the need to earn a living, a compliant part of it and often in denial as to their power and responsibility to change it.
Not long ago, just how determined the police were to maintain the status quo that undermines the rule of law became all too evident. The intrepid Corruption Eradication Committee (KPK), which had successfully netted corrupt government officials, national lawmakers, public prosecutors, provincial governors and central bankers, had the audacity to wiretap a police chief, whereupon, without ado, the police force waged war against the KPK using the weapon of fabricated evidence. Fortunately, however, the KPK was supported by many. Outraged members of the public promptly protested in the street, compelling President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to set up a special task force to focus initially on rooting out corruption in police and prosecutor offices across the country.
Because of heightened public concern about corruption, particularly in the justice system, and the advent of the internet with its power to expose and bring to account, extra-territorial OECD anti-bribery legislation and the awareness of the need for legal predictability to attract foreign investment, Indonesia is ripe for legal system reform. Indeed, if President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is to attract the US$200 billion a year he needs in foreign investment to create jobs and prosperity, the rule of law must be given the highest priority.
It is, though, essential that legal system personnel of conscience in Indonesia are given support such that they come to realise that they collectively have the power to change things, and must work to do so if the ordinary people of their country are not to continue to suffer from deprivation, injustice and human rights abuse in their daily lives.