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Indonesia: Passage of Ormas Bill Condemned, Campaign to Oppose the Law to Continue

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(Bangkok, 4 July 2013): The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) deplored the passage of the Bill on Societal Organizations (Ormas Bill), which it says does not comply with international human rights norms and standards. On 2 July 2013, lawmakers in Indonesia’s House of Representatives voted in favour of the passage of the highly controversial bill despite objections from three political parties and public resistance from civil society.

The regional human rights NGO representing 47 member organizations in 16 Asian countries contended that the bill confers the authorities expansive discretionary powers to restrict or control civil society organizations (CSOs) arbitrarily and unduly constricts the space that they can operate in. FORUM-ASIA had recently, on 10 May 2013, written a letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives Marzuki Alie and members of the House, calling for a rejection the bill in its existing form. While a week-long recess was called on 25 June 2013 to further solicit feedback from civil society and address the objections raised by some members of House during the session, the changes however were minimal and do not adequately address the critical concerns that were highlighted.

“While proponents of the bill were quick to laud many of the cosmetic changes, they conveniently neglect to mention that the most repressive and problematic provisions still remain, including the ambiguity of what constitutes ‘activities that disrupt political stability’, the proscription of activities under the jurisdiction of government and law enforcement, onerous registration processes and the unilateral dissolution and suspension powers of organizations without any due process,” said Giyoun Kim, acting Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA.

“It is very apparent that the Ormas law is a blunt tool that can be wielded by the authorities to silence or stifle legitimate dissent, which stands in direct contradiction to the human rights and fundamental freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution of Indonesia and to its legally-binding obligations as a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),” added Kim.

Meanwhile, Haris Azhar, coordinator of Indonesian human rights organization, the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS), who also sits in FORUM-ASIA’s executive committee, questioned the shifting rhetoric of the government – initially to curb vigilantism and a culture of violence, and more recently, to control the influence of foreign organizations.

“By further subsuming all the restrictions under the broad auspices of Pancasila, it seems that the government is trying to find reasons to legitimize their control of and intrusion into the legitimate work of CSOs. The Ormas law will leave all groups vulnerable to attacks, undermining the hard-won democratic space that has been forged by civil society since the end of the New Order regime,” said Haris Azhar.

FORUM-ASIA has repeatedly warned that excessive State scrutiny and control over organizations under the Ormas law are perceived by local civil society groups and the international community as attempts to revive the practices of Indonesia’s authoritarian past. The regional group stressed that the State should instead focus on ensuring and expanding the enabling environment for organizations to exercise their rights to freedoms of expression and of association, as well as the right to participate in public life.

The regional group said that it will continue to campaign against the law and support Indonesian human rights groups’ plan to challenge its constitutionality through a judicial review.

“Civil society groups will also ensure continued scrutiny on this law, including at the UN’s upcoming examination of Indonesia’s human rights obligations under the ICCPR this month,” added Haris Azhar.

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