Noting: AALL Executive Committee Presentation on the Indonesian Legal System
The tumultuous history of the Indonesian legal system came to center stage at AALL in July thanks to the FCIL Executive Committee. Dan Lev, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Washington, offered a candid view of the bitter history of a country ravaged by corruption.
Professor Lev has
a Ph.D. from Cornell University and is a specialist in the comparative politics,
legal systems, and human rights of Southeast Asia. He has published several
works in this area, including the 2000 title, "Legal Evolution and Political
Authority in Indonesia: Selected Essays" published by Kluwer Law International.
His book, "Islamic Courts in Indonesia", from the University of California
Press, is published in English and Indonesian. His other publications include:
"The Transition to Guided Democracy, Hukum dan Politik di Indonesia"
(Law and Politics in Indonesia), a collection of his essays in Indonesian translation,
as well as other articles and essays on Indonesian and Malaysian politics, legal
institutions, and human rights. He is a member of the editorial board of the
Journal of Legal Pluralism in the Netherlands . (From University of Washington,
Department of Political Science, http://www.polisci.washington.edu/direct/directorylist.asp?personneltype=faculty
Date accessed: September 16, 2003.)
Professor Lev's presentation began with a cautiously hopeful account of recent efforts by Indonesia to initiate legal reforms in an effort to recreate the rule of law after President Suharto was forced out of office in May, 1998. Indonesia is a Constitutional Republic. Eighty-eight percent (88%) of the population is Muslim, representing a diverse array of ethnicities. Professor Lev emphasized the particular religious complexity of this nation.
The bulk of the presentation consisted of a detailed history of turmoil and corruption in the Indonesian political and legal system . The 1945 Indonesian revolution precipitated the emergence of the New Parliamentary Constitutional Government in 1949, after Indonesia was granted independence from the Netherlands. The Constitution that was adopted in 1945 was later amended in the early 1950's in the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Professor Lev stated that at this time, the constitution actually worked, the Judges were diligent in their efforts, and the police targeted corrupt government officials. Since the government represented the nationalist movement and an ethnically diverse population, the legal process had to embrace neutral norms to suit all groups.
Professor Dev then went on to explain how the destabilization of the government began in 1957, with the onset of regional rebellions supported by the United States. Martial law was declared, the press was closed down and the 1945 constitution was restored. Indonesia then went through a period of "guided democracy", which included military rule, a break down of the legal system, the centralization of political power, prosecutorial corruption, defense lawyers engaging in bribery and the emergence of what Dev called "the judicial mafia". The only real hold-outs at this time were the Supreme Court judges, who became increasingly impoverished as a result of their refusal to engage in the complex web of bribery and corruption within the legal system.
In 1964, a military coup resulted in the death of over a million people in Indonesia. A further deterioration of the legal system ensued. The government was simplified - the army governed alone, there were no political parties. Corruption sky rocketed. Private lawyers remained critical of the system and were sometimes thrown out of the courts for their persistence.
Professor Dev's talk continued with a glimpse of the challenges facing Indonesia today. One hundred and eight billion dollars worth of debt remains after one third of all aid monies to Indonesia was pocketed by corrupt governments over the decades.
In 1997-1998, President Suharto was forced out of office, in part due to the nation's financial crisis. Three presidents in the last five years have been unable to pull the legal system together. Professor Dev presented two approaches to repairing Indonesia's political legal system. The first approach he described as a "Napoleonic Approach" requiring a quick and complete overhaul of the legal system. A second gradual approach would entail more expense. The gradual approach would include a significant investment in legal education and an emphasis on organizing the legal profession into a cohesive, influential group. He also emphasized the need for the legal profession to be encouraged to join the judiciary.
There are some positive developments arising in Indonesia today, Professor Dev indicated. He stated that the number of lawyers has gone up from just 200 in 1965 to between 15,000 and 18,000 lawyers today. There are also four new law journals which have emerged out of the local universities. He also suggested that Malaysia's legal system could be looked to as a model for effectively organizing law and government for ethnically diverse nations. The involvement of local organizations such as the Center for the Study of Law and Policy, of which the speaker is a member, is also essential in the process.
In all, Professor Dev was a very animated speaker whose observations were related with candor. His presentation was rendered most persuasive as a result of his detailed knowledge of Indonesia's history and demographics. His genuine concern for the future of Indonesia was evident and his contributions were invaluable.