Social conflict management act: Challenges and prospects

Posted on April 23, 2012

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Hafid Abbas, Jakarta | Mon, 04/23/2012 9:34 AM

Prior to its endorsement by the House of Representatives, the bill on Social Conflict Management had already sparked public controversy. The House failed to approve the draft on April 3 due to some contentious issues, such as the involvement of the military in conflict resolution and the role of regional heads in managing crises.

Human rights group Imparsial, for example, identified 25 problematic articles in the draft that could create further controversy and ambiguity.

However, despite so many concerns and worries voiced by human rights activists, the House unanimously passed the bill on April 12. As a reflection, these are the prospects and challenges of the act as a new instrument to manage social conflict.

First, since 1998, Indonesia made a great historic choice to transform from an authoritarian regime to a democracy, it adopted a decentralized system, press freedom and human rights promotion and protection.

New realities then emerged in which, according to Michael Mann in his book The Dark Side of Democracy (2005), any new democratic country will greatly suffer from various social conflicts.

Mann’s reason is that democracy has always opened the possibility that the majority might tyrannize minorities, and this possibility carries more ominous consequences in certain multi-ethnic environments. Indonesia is not an exception.

As a comparative perspective, the World Bank (2011) reported that violence exacted a high cost on world development. In about 60 countries, over the last 10 years, violence has significantly and directly reduced economic growth.

It has hampered poverty reduction efforts and limited progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

The World Bank further reported that throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, crime and violence detracted an estimated 14.2 percent from the region’s GDP. The economic cost of violence in El Salvador was approximately 11.5 percent of the country’s GDP or US$1.7 billion. In Guatemala, the cost was 7.3 percent or $2.4 billion (2003).

Similarly, as reported by Bappenas (2012), the conflict in Aceh in 1999 caused economic loss to to the tune of Rp 5.2 trillion (10.1 percent) of the province’s total GDP of Rp 51.6 trillion ($5.7 billion).

Thirty years of conflict in the province have obviously caused extraordinary loss, not only in billions of dollars but also the loss of some 50,000 lives both from armed forces and innocent civilians.

Great loss also occurred during the conflicts in Ambon, Poso, Pontianak, Papua and in many other parts of the country. Overall, Indonesia has greatly suffered from such losses.

The newly adopted act could be a catalyst of social transformation, and for the country to reflect on its many conflicts in the past, to that it achieves a just, peaceful and prosperous society in the future.

Second, since Indonesia has made a great transformation, our people do expect the most immediate improvement to their quality of life. However, after so many years, they have not seen any significant changes. Ironically, they are watching the daily behavior of elites in the legislative, executive and judiciary branches of power.

Elites are all in a trap, blaming each other, fighting each other for their own personal and group interests and forgetting their noble mission to serve and to improve the quality of life for all citizens.

The poor and marginalized people are now worrying and questioning where the power struggle will end. To some extent, their social frustration forces them to fight to return to Soeharto’s era, which they thought was more stable and prosperous.

Malaysia, Singapore and even China are examples of nations where democracy and press freedom are absent but stability and prosperity are present, with these places being relatively free from social conflict.

If this dilemma persists then social conflicts in Indonesia will also persist. To me the choices to return to old era or go ahead with transformation to democracy have share equal risks.

At such an intersection, Rene Descartes said: “You just keep pushing. I made every mistake that could be made. But I just kept pushing. An optimist may see a light where there is none, but why must the pessimist always run to blow it out?” If the historic choice to democracy is the point of no return, let us just keep pushing by improving on all our mistakes.

Let us keep pushing the spirit of the new law and if it has to be improved, a judicial review mechanism is available.

Even without the act, Indonesia has proved its great success in managing various social conflicts, such as in Aceh with the Helsinki Peace Accord, Poso and Ambon through the Malino I and II Agreements, and the dark past of human rights violations in East Timor through the Commission of Truth and Friendship.

Third, prevention, crisis management, and post-conflict management as the three methods of conflict management can not be delegated to any single institution. Social conflict management is not merely legal and sectoral, but multi-dimensional and cross-cutting.

It requires meta analysis and multi-disciplinary approaches to address it. This issue is an inherent task of all law enforcement officials, an inherent task of the National Commission of Human Rights, and it is the mission of all religious leaders.

It will likely be counterproductive to place all these responsibilities on one single institution such as the commission of social conflict management — as mandated by the new act.

The country needs a National Plan of Action on Social Conflict Management that could fall under the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister. The plan could prioritize, for example, the Ahmadiyah case, land disputes, Papua’s special autonomy, local elections and conflicts between regional bylaws and national laws.

Finally, if our civilization is to survive and social conflict is to be removed, we have to improve our ability to live together in unity and diversity and our leaders need to act to harmonize what we are thinking, what we are saying and what we are doing.

The writer, a professor at the State University of Jakarta, is a former director general of human rights in the Law and Human Rights Ministry and UNESCO consultant in Asia and the Pacific Region.

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