Weekly Insights and Analysis

Leading Disability Advocate Examines Draft Disability Law in Indonesia

December 2, 2015

This is part of a special series for International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

Like many countries, Indonesia is accelerating efforts to implement its commitment as a 2011 signatory to the International Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD), particularly as the newly minted 2030 Sustainable Development Goals have made explicit that the United Nations will give more weight and focus to disabilities. Indonesia has in place a basic framework guaranteeing rights, but there are significant gaps, including national laws with discriminatory provisions, ambiguous and unclear language that enables discrimination and non-compliance, and limited fiscal resources allocated to disability inclusion. [Watch a new video about life for people with disability in rural Indonesia.] Moreover, both criminal and civil law fails to position people with disabilities as equal subjects before the law, impacting access to justice for persons with disabilities as both plaintiffs and defendants.

Joni Yulianto

Joni Yulianto, a leading disability advocate in Indonesia, participates at a recent demonstration pushing Parliament to develop legislation that is more disability inclusive.

In 2013, high-level Indonesian government officials endorsed the development of a draft comprehensive law on disability rights, covering not only economic rights but also civil, political, and cultural rights. Yet almost three years into the process of legislative drafting, disability rights activists think there is room for improvement – foremost, they want assurances that persons with disabilities will be included in the formulation, implementation, and evaluation of policies and programs related to disability issues.

Just ahead of International Day of People with Disabilities on December 3, our program officer in Indonesia, Natalia Warat, sat down with Joni Yulianto, a leading disability advocate and 2015 Asia Foundation Development Fellow, to discuss his perspective on the draft legislation.

What do you think of the disability legislation currently before Indonesia’s Parliament?

On the one hand, I appreciate the current disability bill that now sits with the government. Compared to the previous law, this legislation is significantly more progressive in translating the UNCRPD (United Nation Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability) into a law that will be the legal grounds for mainstreaming disability rights. However, it should not just be a statement of rights, but contextualized within the situation of disability in Indonesia, and be specific about solving systemic gaps in regulation.

A fundamental change introduced by the bill is the impetus for mainstreaming disability – it will no longer be the sole domain of the Ministry of Social Affairs. However this will presumably spark disagreement by those in the government and House of Representatives who don’t yet understand the new inclusion paradigm that mainstreams disability. Certainly, all of us hope that this doesn’t end up like the current disability law, UU 4/1997, which had no legal power. We all want legislation that has the power to bring about change. In this sense, we need to allow this to be opened up for debate and improvement of the bill, and should not rush into setting a date for it to be passed.

The 1997 Law (UU No. 4/1997) on Persons with Disabilities is not holistic; it does not cover guidelines or technical mechanisms for the implementation for disability rights protection. It could not answer who are the responsible parties and who has the authority to enforce it. For example, in 1998 the Ministry of Public Works released Ministerial Decree No. 468 on the Technical Requirements on Accessibility for public buildings. However, no institutional authority has the authority to supervise the implementation and there is no clear policy on enforcement. The same thing happened in relation to the one percent employment quota for persons with disability. There is no clear and firm authorization body for its implementation.

Moreover, the law itself only covers four dimensions: education, employment, social welfare, and accessibility. However, disability issues need to be seen as multi-dimensional.

If this law is passed, what impact will it have on the lives of persons with disabilities?

The answer depends on how far the content, control, and appropriateness of the draft law can regulate the state apparatuses. We all agree that good legal policy should, at the very least, be based on the fulfillment of equal rights. However, the fact is that legal policies often become meaningless in the face of other government and societal commitments. But, at the very least, a good policy is clear and provides guidelines for the formulation of laws in protecting and fulfilling disability rights. This will provide a greater level of assurance for persons with disabilities to fulfill their rights as citizens, be included and considered equal in society.

What else is needed to further strengthen the disability inclusive movement?

Establishing an inclusive societal movement can’t be done through policy change alone. Apart from advocating for more inclusive policy, the first thing that should happen, in my opinion, is to adopt and use inclusive practice in everyday life and culture itself, starting from the immediate environment – the village. The village is the smallest government unit and the ideal arena to promote and implement inclusiveness.

The story about Sendangtirto village is the best illustration of inclusiveness. In 2014, SIGAB, together with Sendangtirto village authorities, hosted an “Inclusive Forum” with people from the region. The main goal was to introduce the disability issues in all aspects of life, particularly in the family and community realms. The interaction between community members and people with disabilities resulted in mutual understanding and a commitment to establish inclusive community as a model of development. We saw many changes, such as families starting to acknowledge and support their disabled family members. There was an increasing of awareness and understanding about the importance of access to public facilities such as the village office and mosque. Now, Sendangtirto village has been successful in its advocacy for the Sub-district of Berbah to build an accessible Public Health Center (Puskesmas). This is a concrete example of how change at the village level – of awareness about the importance of inclusivity – can actually influence higher levels of government to make meaningful change for people with disabilities.

Natalia Warat is a program officer for The Asia Foundation in Indonesia. The Asia Foundation’s support to Indonesian Disabled People’s Organizations is implemented in partnership with the Australian Government. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the interviewee and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funder.


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