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New social conflict law deemed ineffective in tackling root problems

Jakarta Post - December 11, 2012

Jakarta – A law that was specifically designed to handle social conflict across the country is considered ineffective as the legislation does not touch any of the potential root issues in communal clashes.

The Social Conflict Management Law, which was passed in April this year, has become a target for criticism by a number of experts.

"The law will not effectively resolve social conflicts because it does not regulate how to prevent conflict from happening [in the first place]. It only regulates how to approach conflicts [that have already begun]," sociologist Thamrin Amal Tomagola from the University of Indonesia (UI) said in Jakarta on Monday.

Thamrin was referring to Law No. 7/2012 on social conflict management, which was criticized by several human rights watchdogs when it was being deliberated in the House of Representatives.

The rights activists feared the law would give the Indonesian Military (TNI) authority to meddle in political affairs just as it did during the New Order regime.

Under the law, regional leaders are given the authority to deploy military personnel to handle social conflicts, but only with the approval of the President and the House leaders.

Thamrin criticized articles in the law that only deal with how to handle conflicts. He said the law did not provide a framework to prevent conflicts from occurring or reoccurring.

He added that the government had to understand the core problems that lay at the heart of various conflicts throughout the country.

According to Thamrin, many conflicts may appear to be social or cultural when, in fact, they were manifestations of economic and/or political conflicts. "The recent conflict in South Lampung regency is one such example," he said.

In October, 14 people were killed during incidents involving people from Kalianda and Way Panji districts in South Lampung.

The violence was triggered by an allegation of sexual harassment committed by men from Way Panji, many of whose residents are of Balinese descent, on two young women from Kalianda district, whose residents are mostly Lampung natives. The conflict appeared to be an ethnic clash. But actually, economic disparity between the two villages was what caused the violence.

"People's anger was actually targeted toward the government. However, they cannot attack that. Therefore, people from the less developed community attacked those from the more developed one because they felt that the government favored the latter," Thamrin said.

Sharing Thamrin's view, Thung Ju Lan, a senior researcher with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), said the Social Conflict Management Law should have been designed according to a different paradigm. "We should be working on conflict prevention, but the law only deals with conflict resolution," she said.

One way to prevent conflicts, she added, was to better educate people about social plurality among Indonesians because people were often unaware that their neighbors may have a different ethnicity or religion to their own.

Separately, Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) lawmaker Eva Kusuma Sundari said the government needed to immediately issue a government regulation to provide details of the Social Conflict Management Law.

The government regulation needed to include references of how social values in society could be used to mend conflicts, Eva added.

"Local communities have their own ways of dealing with social conflicts. Therefore, it would be wise if the government regulation also included local values as a medium to solving conflicts," said Eva, who is also a member of House Commission III overseeing laws and human rights. (riz)