Notes from the Field

Photo Blog: Legal Aid Delivers Justice in Indonesia

May 7, 2014

Millions of poor and marginalized Indonesians live without the full protection of the law. Securing access to justice for these citizens is a vital component of reducing poverty and vulnerability and delivering democratic governance. In July 2013, Indonesia launched a nationally funded legal aid system, and now 310 organizations have been accredited to deliver legal aid to poor Indonesians, supported by the state budget. Although legal aid has only recently been formalized in Indonesian law, the tradition of legal aid providers dates back decades in Indonesia, and the national network of legal aid institutes, known as Lembaga Bantuan Hukum (LBH), are present in almost every major urban center, providing services to poor and vulnerable citizens. Dina Afrianty takes a look at the range of outreach and services managed by these civil society organizations in Jakarta and Makassar. Photos by Ed Wray.

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Poor and marginalized Indonesians often suffer from a lack of access to legal identity, lack of access to secure rights over land and natural resources, gender violence and discrimination, and weak labor and employment rights. Legal aid institutions play a critical role in providing legal information and advice to help solve a wide range of practical legal problems. An employee at LBH Jakarta assists a client with filing a claim over land rights.

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Women are socially, economically, and culturally marginalized in many parts of Indonesia. Achieving access to justice is challenging, as ingrained gender stereotypes and established patterns of exclusion have been historical features of Indonesia’s justice sector. Rigid interpretations of Islamic law by some religious court judges mean that some women victims of domestic violence face trouble seeking divorce services through the courts.

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The Women’s Association for Justice and Legal Aid (LBH-APIK) is one of the main civil society organizations reaching out to women across the country. Here, the Makassar branch of the organization attends a women’s group to raise awareness and assist in providing services.

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Many legal aid institutes now train village-level paralegals to provide basic legal information, and referral to legal aid posts at the sub-district level, or to lawyers if needed. Paralegals have emerged as particularly important for women to solve their legal problems, and in Makassar, LBH Apik has trained almost 120 of them to file and classify cases so that they can be effectively tracked by civil society organizations and local government. Women attend a monthly village meeting with paralegals, with the hope that greater legal awareness will bring tangible economic benefits, such as equipping women to claim the government assistance to which they are entitled, or address rights to land and inheritance.

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While indigent defendants who face criminal charges have by law the right to legal representation, the provision of state-subsidized legal assistance has not always been guaranteed. Legal aid institutes have stepped in to provide assistance, and at LBH Makassar, a dedicated criminal defense lawyer provides representation for the poor. Here, LBH Makassar provides defense of a woman suspected of graft during her court hearing in Makassar.

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As Indonesia scales up legal aid services, there is a critical need for training of lawyers as legal aid providers. Currently, only 310 Indonesian lawyers are certified to provide services in a country of over 245 million. Since 1970, LBH Jakarta has offered two-month training courses followed by one-month field placements to fresh law graduates seeking certification in legal aid practice. Here, lawyers participate in the popular course at LBH’s training center in Jakarta.

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A range of experts address a range of rights-based and legal issues that legal aid clients face. Here, one of the pioneers of gay and lesbian rights in Indonesia, Professor Dede Oetomo, leads a session on legal and rights-based issues facing Indonesia’s LGBT community.

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Ensuring that all citizens – irrespective of gender, race, religion, age, or class – can enjoy the rule of law is one of the ultimate objectives to which all societies and their legal systems should aspire. In Indonesia, legal aid institutes play a vital role in making sure that the justice system delivers for poor and vulnerable citizens.

Dina Afrianty is a program officer for The Asia Foundation in Indonesia. She can be reached at dina.afrianty@asiafoundation.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

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