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House approves controversial social conflict management bill

Jakarta Post - April 12, 2012

Margareth S. Aritonang, Jakarta – The House of Representatives passed the social conflict management bill on Wednesday following a chorus of rejection from lawmakers and NGOs who warned it could pave the way for the Indonesian Military (TNI) to enter local political issues.

The final bill featured a watered-down version of one of the more contentious articles, which would have authorized governors, regents and mayors, if backed by local military and police leaders, to deploy the TNI to resolve social conflicts – a power currently reserved for the President.

The bill endorsed by the House on Wednesday allowed only the President to have the authority to deploy the TNI to handle such conflicts, when necessary, with the approval of the House leadership.

"After comprehensively discussing input from lawmakers, particularly on Article 33 and Article 34 on the deployment of the TNI in conflict resolution, we agreed to revise both articles to mandate the President to be in charge of this," said Adang Daradjatun from the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), who chaired the special committee on the bill.

"This is to avoid ambiguity over which institutions should be responsible for deploying the TNI in conflict resolutions, when needed."

In a plenary session last week, lawmakers were concerned that the articles could pave the way for TNI personnel to commit human-rights violations in domestic conflicts. The lawmakers then sent the bill back to the House committee to make revisions.

The revised version of the bill states that regional leaders need approval from the President to deploy the TNI in conflict situations. But the President himself will also need to obtain approval from House leaders in order to deploy troops in such situations, under the approved bill.

The committee has also agreed to drop an article that could allow foreign agencies to be involved in conflict resolution in Indonesia. Previously, House Commission I overseeing defense and international affairs expressed its concerns over the article.

"We decided to drop the article because activists have stated their opposition to it. We have decided not to allow foreign agencies to interfere with efforts to resolve social conflicts," Adang said.

Another senior lawmaker said that the removal of the article had helped protect the sovereignty of Indonesian. "This is important to show that we are an independent nation. We must be able to take care of ourselves, including in the management of social conflicts in the country," said TB Hasanuddin from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, who is also the deputy chairman of Commission I.

Quoting President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Law and Human Rights Minister Amir Syamsuddin said that the bill would provide a legal foundation for protecting civilians in times of social conflict.

"The law will not only protect the people but also empower them during conflicts because it will uphold human rights, justice and gender equality," he said.

A group called Indonesia Damai (Peaceful Indonesia) first proposed the bill in early 2011, and the House soon started deliberating on the organization's suggestion. House Commission II overseeing domestic governance and regional autonomy deliberated on the bill with Commission III on legal affairs and Commission I.

The bill has also mandated the establishment of a Social Conflict Settlement Commission, an ad hoc body which would have the authority to conduct out-of-court settlements through mediation and reconciliation sessions.