Sat, 21 Jun 2003

Rights court building neglected

Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Several court clerks with file folders in their hands entered the three-story white building, while several others exited. A couple sat on a wooden bench on the first floor outside a room marked with a sheet of paper reading, "Human rights courtroom".

But the two are not defendants in a human rights abuse, as the first floor of the Jakarta Human Rights Court building has been, informally, converted into an office for the process-server of the Jakarta Commercial Court.

The Rp 2 billion (US$241,000) building shows signs of damage: broken tiles here and there, the elevator is out of order, and no one would use the restrooms if was not an emergency.

Since its inauguration on Jan. 31, 2002, the country's first ever Human Rights Court building -- which is connected to the Central Jakarta District Court and the Commercial Court building -- has never been used in accordance with its function.

According to several court clerks, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the secluded courtrooms of the building were a strategic place to hold hearings "secretly", late in the afternoon, when court reporters have already left to make their deadline. At such hearings, the defendants usually receive very light sentences. Among the cases tried in the courtrooms are minor drug abuses.

Only the third floor of the building is used by non-career human rights judges as their "courtroom" to try cases related to the 1999 independence ballot in East Timor, since the ad hoc tribunal of rights perpetrators started in March 2002.

"The current tribunal grabbed wide public attention, therefore we decided to use the big rooms to enable us to play host to a large number of attendants," Central Jakarta District Court spokesman Andi Samsan Nganro told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

Each of the floors has one 8x5 square meter room, and about half of the big courtrooms at the main building are always packed with journalist and supporters of the rights defendants.

Nganro said he had no idea how the process-server ended up with the first floor of the rights court as their office. But he promised that the court would restore the building to its original function, especially because a human rights case on the 1984 massacre in Tanjung Priok, East Jakarta, was awaiting trial.