An alleyway in Jakarta (JP/Ben Latuihamallo)
Indonesia is an incredibly diverse, vibrant country with a population of over 260 million (the fourth largest in the world), that has made major democratic reforms since the end of military dictatorship in 1998. Despite these reforms, and the development of a legal aid law and framework, Indonesia still suffers from a crisis in access to justice. Unable to get prompt access to quality legal aid, poor and vulnerable people accused of crimes fall victim to illegal and arbitrary detention, corruption, false confessions and wrongful convictions - often times languishing in detention for months without a hearing. These violations have the potential to cause irreversible damage to their livelihoods, relationships, and family. Indonesia does benefit from an organized system of legal aid providers who are committed to fighting injustices but who are also struggling to develop the skills and capacity necessary to provide effective rights protections. In March, thanks to your support, I traveled to Jakarta to complete a legal system review and to gain on-the ground insight into barriers to access to justice for the poor.
During the trip, I identified several areas where the ILF can leverage its comparative experience while adapting our model to the particular conditions in Indonesia. First, as we’ve seen in many countries, Indonesians have limited access to counsel, particularly in rural areas. This is especially pronounced on remote islands. Second, attorneys have few incentives to take on tough criminal cases. The Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation (ILAF) provides legal aid services, but the government pays lawyers by the case. A case involving civil penalties that can be resolved quickly earns a lawyer the same as taking on a complex criminal case, discouraging lawyers from serving defendants desperately in need of high quality counsel and facing high stakes penalties. Third, the culture in many police stations discourages defendants from promptly calling a lawyer, and I heard several descriptions of alleged mistreatment and bribery in this setting. Having defense lawyers on duty at police stations, as we’ve successfully piloted in Tunisia, could go a long way to prevent abuse, promote transparency, and rebuild faith in the system.
Speaking with Indonesian colleagues was an amazing opportunity for professional exchange, and I found most audiences very curious about our work. Indonesia’s legal aid providers would benefit from a mentorship program that would increase their ability to combat rights violations by developing their capacity to ensure early access to quality counsel and engage in strategic litigation aimed at systemic change. This trip supports the ILF’s understanding that the challenges in Indonesia are shared by other countries in the region and our belief that addressing the quality of legal aid services can lead to an increase in access to justice. The information gathered will inform the ILF’s advocacy aimed at supporting human rights defenders in countries like Indonesia. We invite you to spread the word about the ILF’s effort. Many thanks for your steadfast support, and please do continue with us on this journey!