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Indonesia: Law on Mass Organizations

(July 11, 2013) On July 2, 2013, the Indonesian House of Representatives passed long-debated draft legislation on civic organizations by a vote of 311-50; there were 199 legislators who did not vote. (Rancangan Undang-undang Republik Indonesia … Tentang Organisasi Kemasyarakatan [Draft Law of the <?Republic of Indonesia Concerning Civic Organizations] (July 2, 2013), Indonesia House of Representatives website.) The purpose of the new legislation, as described by its supporters, is to empower local organizations and counter foreign intervention in the country in the form of non-governmental organizations. Critics fear, however, that the draft law will give the government increased control over civil society, including the authority to disband groups considered to be a threat to the state. (Margareth S. Aritonang, Freedom Under Grave Threat, THE JAKARTA POST (July 3, 2013).)

The draft must go to the President for signature before it can become law. (Indonesian Parliament Passes Mass Organization Law, ABC NEWS (July 2, 2013).)

Features of the Draft Law on Civic Organizations

The proposed law defines “mass organizations” as voluntary groups established with shared interests and aspirations and that uphold the unity of the country based on the state ideology of Pancasila. (Aritonang, supra.) Pancasila embraces five principles: Indonesian nationalism; internationalism; consent or democracy; social prosperity; and belief in one God. (Pancasila, BRITANNICA ACADEMIC EDITION, (last visited July 5, 2013).)

The law, if finalized, will give the government the authority to screen all mass organizations in the country. The only organizations that would be exempt from the requirement to be screened are the two largest Islamic organizations, Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama, which have been operating since long before the country became independent of the Netherlands in 1949. (Aritonang, supra.)

Foreign-funded groups would have to obtain a permit to operate in the country. (Indonesian Parliament Passes Mass Organization Law, supra.) The process would include the participation of both Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry and the State Intelligence Agency. (Aritonang, supra.)

The new legislation imposes sanctions on mass organizations that violate its rules, including requirements to

· register and secure permits from the government;

· uphold the unity and integrity of the nation;

· maintain religious, cultural, and moral values;

· preserve peace and public order; and

· promote the state’s ideals. (Id.)

The sanctions will consist of a series of up to three initial warning letters, each valid for about 30 days. If a group does not respond to the letters, the group’s operations can be temporarily halted or the group may be disbanded, following a government a request to a district court. (Id.)

Reactions to the Draft Law

Members of three political parties (the Great Indonesia Movement, the National Mandate Party, and the People’s Conscience) opposed the draft law; some critics argued that the law could be used to stifle political dissent. Religious organizations, including the Indonesian Bishops Conference and the Indonesian Communion of Churches, in addition to Muhammadiyah, also opposed the legislation and now intend to lodge a challenge with the Constitutional Court. (Aritonang, supra.) Earlier this year, moreover, a group of United Nations experts had raised concerns about the legislation, fearing that it would impose “undue restrictions [on] the rights to freedom of association, expression, and religion.” (Indonesia: “Restrictive Bill Threatens Freedoms of Association, Expression, Religion,” Warn UN Rights Experts, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights website (Feb. 14, 2013); Constance A. Johnson, Indonesia: U.N. Experts Criticize Bill on Organizations, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Feb. 22, 2013).)

In defending the proposed law, Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi noted that although 65,577 mass organizations have been recorded by his agency, as well as 48,866 by the Law and Human Rights Ministry, 25,406 by the Social Affairs Ministry, and 108 by the Foreign Ministry, there are still many groups that are unregistered and unmonitored. He added, “[w]e need to manage all of these groups so that they can positively contribute to the country.” (Aritonang, supra.)

Aside from the perceived threats to human rights posed by the draft law, it has been pointed out that Indonesia does already have laws that cover some of the same issues dealt with in the new legislation, raising concerns about overlapping provisions. (Id.; see also NGO Law Monitor: Indonesia, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law website (last updated May 13, 2013) [scroll down to “National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector” for a list of relevant legislation, with links to texts in translation].)