Thu, 04 Dec 2003

Social economic rights need more understanding

Yanuar Nugroho, The Business Watch Indonesia, Surakarta, Central Java,

Look at this time-series data on evictions in Jakarta, compiled and processed by the Jakarta Social Institute (ISJ) and the Jakarta Residents' Forum (Fakta). First, during 2001, the Jakarta municipality, in the name of law and order, evicted the urban poor 99 times.

We are raising this matter now, as an International Workshop on Indonesia's NGO Coalition for Human Rights is being held in this town on Thursday and Friday, ahead of World Human Rights Day on Dec. 10.

Moreover, the brutal eviction wiped out at least 6,588 houses and five schools, leaving 6,774 families, or over 34,000 people, homeless. ISJ and Fakta also say the evictions contributed to the death of 19 people, injury to 67, depression of 1,000 and unemployment of 4,252 people.

At least 2,700 worksites were destroyed and the loss was around Rp 540 million.

Second, last year, 26 evictions were carried out in residential areas, with a further 20 evictions of street vendors, in which 4,908 homes were demolished, 18,732 people became homeless, 15 were injured and 11 were arrested.

Third, as of October, there were 15 evictions, resulting in over 7,000 homeless families, the killing of one person, a 13- year-old allegedly raped by a public order official, 20 injured and a further 26 arrested.

At present, over 300 evicted families of fishermen in Muara Angke, North Jakarta, are living on their boats with some 30 infants -- heaven knows how much longer they will be able to do so.

In Surabaya and other big cities, the urban poor are repeatedly wiped out for the city's "development."

While most of the capital's poor are evicted because they live and do business on land categorized as "green, open space," business interests in the past few years have converted 49,135 square meters of Jakarta's open land into 32 gas stations. Two- thirds of the protected mangrove in North Jakarta was cleared for the construction of luxury estates.

"Development" thus seems irrelevant because -- if anything -- it is simply an unintended consequence of individual profit- seeking ventures carried out by businesses.

The evictions usually involve the brazen seizure of urban land by commercial and financial giants. The apparatus of the state are simply the loyal servant of these economic oligarchs.

Saying that only the state is responsible is to ignore the capacity and the influence of business power -- and this involves the deeper consequences on how we perceive democracy and human rights.

We are nearing the end of 2003, yet our notions and practice of democracy and human rights remain stuck in the 1900s -- when movements advocating civil and political rights focused on making the state accountable.

Nowadays the notion of human rights needs to be supplemented by a concept that takes into account the current state of affairs, i.e. the power of capital and business, which have become so immense. In particular, there is an urgency to focus on the promotion of socioeconomic human rights.

If civil-political rights are exercised in relation to the workings of state power, socioeconomic human rights concern the workings of business power, which determines employment (as well as housing, food, water, health and other basic needs), upon which the economic survival of more and more people depends.

For instance, privatization of basic services, involving giant business interests, has deliberately been promoted as the best way of providing public services.

Often there are two typical reactions. First, the government alone becomes the target of anger.

Second, the controversy often focuses on technicalities: Farthest is the question of whether the service is still affordable to the poor. Rarely is the economic human rights perspective used to confront the core problem -- the impact of privatization of essential services that cover almost all areas of human life, and which should therefore not be controlled by the logic of pure profit accumulation.

Thus, addressing the problem of economic human rights by simply targeting the state is to bark up the wrong tree.

The need to raise awareness of social and economic rights in the country is therefore an urgent challenge if we realize that it is not the state alone that wields the greatest influence on our lives.