Sat, 23 Aug 2003

RI pluralism mismanaged

Nico Harjanto & Christine Susanna Tjhin, Researchers, Department of Politics and Social Change Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jakarta

Since the transition to democracy began five years ago, Indonesia has been rocked by widespread communal conflicts. The prolonged conflicts in Aceh and ethno-religious violence in Maluku and Central Sulawesi's town of Poso reflect the mismanagement of pluralism in Indonesia.

One proposal for solutions focus on the enforcement of regional autonomy. However, the question of whether regional autonomy is feasible must be readdressed by probing into the fundamental question of whether cultural rights have been properly addressed.

Regional autonomy policies may be useful, yet its implementation tends to neglect issues of cultural rights over economic and political rights. Managing pluralism becomes virtually impossible without adequate acknowledgement of cultural rights.

The essential idea of multiculturalism and/or pluralism is that there should be proper acknowledgement of and respect for cultural rights of all individuals and/or communal groups. Such acknowledgement can only be obtained through the establishment of certain policies that accommodate:

(1) the right to attain sufficient capacities that permit one to participate in one's own culture;

(2) the right to cultivate one's own chosen cultural identity, e.g. using one's own language, fostering and practicing one's own traditions as a distinct way of life, etc. (UN Charter of 1966 regarding cultural human rights).

Indonesia has yet to ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, therefore we lack one foundation to ensure adequate acknowledgement.

Complications are inevitable once policies are formulated and various groups raise various cultural claims to policy makers. J. T. Levy proposes eight possible categories for special policies relevant to cultural pluralism, which are:

(1) Exemptions from laws that impair minority rights. The Sikhs, for example from India, who wear turbans may be exempt from the helmet law.

(2) Assistance in all the things that the majority can do unassisted. Multilingual ballots and governmental information, affirmative action as well as financial assistance to minorities are among the examples.

(3) External rules, by restricting non-group members' freedom to protect a group's culture and heritage. Outsiders of the group should be restricted from possessing or buying a minority group's cultural artifacts.

(4) Recognition/enforcement of traditional legal codes by the national legal system. Traditional customs and laws such as the nagari system with the Minangkabau people of western Sumatra, or the adat in Dayak community, for instance, should be recognized as legitimate local laws for those groups.

(5) Facilitating self-government for minority groups;

(6) Granting symbolic claims such as a national holiday;

(7) Allowing internal rules by the members to enforce a group's customs and laws;

(8) Giving minorities representation quotas in politics.

In the case of Indonesia, some of these schemes have been adopted as policy. However, the fundamental problem is that there is no clear legal and political acknowledgement of cultural rights.

The political system is dubious in its basic operating principles. There is no consensus over the basic value of politics. Should the political system be based upon the primacy of individual freedom, limited government role and free market economy, or should it focus on the primacy of common good, extensive government paternalism and a state-controlled economy?

To what extent should the government get itself involved in the appreciation of citizens' cultural rights (as individuals and as part of communal groups)? Surely (or preferably) not all the way.

Only after the four recent amendments to the Constitution did we see some partial attempt to address issues of diversity. Article 18 (on regional authority), Article 28 (on human rights related to religious practices and culture) and Article 32 (on education and local languages). Operational laws, however, remain vague and ambiguous in practice. The government imposes rigid rules on addressing pluralism, instead of creating and fostering a conducive atmosphere.

The law on marriage is one blatant, typical top-down intrusion. Citizens do not have legal assurances for inter- religious marriage. Another is the agrarian law. The right of land possession based on traditional customs and laws for some minorities is not guaranteed, as the state can arbitrarily claim certain its land.

The latest controversial bill on national education again stipulates the extensive role of the state in an individual's life by forcing students to study their own religion at schools, even private religious schools that may be of a different religion than some of its students.

In summary, managing pluralism is in the hands of both the state and civil society. But the core drive relies upon constitutional reforms that cautiously acknowledge and address the complex issues of cultural rights. Therefore, it is important to tackle these issues in the next constitutional debates by involving the opinions of the key elements of the civil society.