Fri, 16 Jun 2000

Human rights, election amandment agreed

JAKARTA (JP): Major factions at the People's Consultative Assembly's (MPR) Ad Hoc Committee (PAH) have agreed to insert a chapter on human rights and a free and fair general election into the Amendments to the 1945 Constitution.

Ad Hoc committee chairman Jacob Tobing said representatives of almost all 10 factions in the committee were of the opinion that human rights and a free and fair general election are two elementary factors in developing democracy.

"All factions agreed to insert human rights and a free and fair general election into a special chapter in the Constitution," he told The Jakarta Post after the committee's session here on Wednesday.

He noted that the chapter on human rights acknowledged universal principles but also their uniqueness in the situation in Indonesia, freedom of association, freedom of speech and the protection of women and children rights.

Tobing, also a former member of the General Elections Commission (KPU), said factions also agreed that a free and fair general election should be held regularly and organized by an independent election commission.

"A general election will be held once every five years and it should be organized by an independent commission to make it free and fair," he said.

He said the committee's agreement was in line with the House of Representatives' recent decision to dissolve KPU, whose members were representatives of the government and political parties, and replace it with an independent eleven-member commission.

He said the committee had also agreed to a direct presidential election system in the general election.

"The committee is making necessary changes to the Constitution resulting from the proposed presidential election," he said, but noted that a direct presidential election could not be held in the 2004 general election because it would need a lot of preparation.


The insertion of a human rights chapter, in particular one which applies gender equality is also being lobbied by female activists.

They argued that it was necessary to enable the replacement of many discriminative laws.

Rights activist Nursyahbani Katjasungkana said that a clause on equality must be added to the Constitution because in 1984 the government had ratified the United Nations Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

The clause on equality should be inserted into the additional chapter on human rights, said Nursyahbani, who also represents women in the MPR.

Although the Constitution already mentions, among others, rights to a decent living, religious rights and rights to education, Nursyahbani said these were inadequate.

"The right to live and the right not to be discriminated against are not covered in the Constitution," Nursyahbani said.

According to Nursyahbani the ad-hoc committee preparing the changes since October had not responded to input from the Women's Coalition. Discriminative laws included the marriage law and the labor law, she said.

Noted sociologist Julia Suryakusuma said separately that the clauses on human rights in the Constitution were open to interpretation.

"We are a patriarchal community, and our laws are interpreted in a patriarchal light," she told the Post.

Julia pointed to the marriage law, which states that the man is the head of the family. The law has led to the waiving of domestic violence reports, Julia said, on the grounds that such cases were private affairs.

"The law implies that the woman is the man's property," she said.

She agreed with Nursyahbani on the need of a specific section on human rights and the rights of women and children in the Constitution to avoid open interpretation.

Apart from amending the Constitution and laws, authorities should also be taught about gender sensitivity, Julia said.

"No matter how specific the Constitution, if the person interpreting it is patriarchal, then it will be patriarchal," she said.

The Women's Coalition proposed a special section dealing with civil and political rights; social, economic and cultural rights; reproductive rights; the right to fair and sustainable development; and the rights of indigenous societies.

Nursyahbani said ratifying the convention also obligates the government to set up affirmative action for women until considerable equality is reached.

Nursyahbani stressed that discrimination extended to sexual orientation.

Reality shows that homosexuals and lesbians exist in society and in a country upholding the rule of law, discrimination based on sexual orientation is unacceptable, she added. (10/rms)