INDONESIA: Implementation of sharia law in Aceh still too sensitive an issue to be adequately addressed
An interview with Hendra Fadli from the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence in Aceh (KontraS Aceh), published by the Asian Human Rights Commission
Hendra Fadli is the coordinator of the Commission for Disappeared and Victims of Violence in Aceh (Kontras Aceh). (Photo: Hendra Fadli, Source: KontraS Aceh)
Background: Based on the autonomous status of Aceh province, the Aceh provincial parliament has passed a new sharia law, legalising many human rights violations, including corporal punishment. Several regencies in Aceh have set up local regulations on implementing the sharia law at the regency level. Calls for a review of the law to bring it in accordance with international human rights norms or national constitutional rights have been ignored.
What is civil society's response to the imposition of sharia law in Aceh?
In general, there is no resistance from Aceh's society to the imposition of sharia law in Aceh. In fact, the rejection of sharia law is a sensitive issue, so there is little possibility of rejection from the society.
What is the impact on civil society of imposing sharia law?
I see a discrepancy in the practice and unprofessional conduct of law enforcement agencies in enforcing sharia law, which raises new problems in society. There is now an increase in social violence, due to residents punishing alleged perpetrators before bringing them to the sharia police (there is a view that this is acceptable for those violating sharia law).
What are the problems arising from the imposition of sharia law in Aceh?
The problems of the shariah district regulation are as follows:
• The material law (content of the law) does not consider other laws prevailing in Indonesia today. In other words, the local sharia regulation is “an old product”, not in harmony with other Indonesian laws and obligations, such as the ratification of the Convention against Torture or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which uphold fundamental human rights norms, including provisions against cruel punishment.
• There is still no formal law (procedural law) for the sharia regulation, resulting in its obscurity and inconsistencies in its application. For example, sometimes sharia police refer to the Indonesian criminal procedure law, and sometimes they refer to qanun (the sharia regulation in Aceh). Qanun actually only gives the sharia police authority for monitoring, reminding and public education. Reference to Indonesian criminal procedure law however, gives them the authority to act as investigator; they thus also have the authority to arrest, detain and seize. The unclear boundaries regarding the sharia police's authority has led to various problems in practical implementation.
• We can still find discrimination in the implementation of the local sharia regulation. For instance, it is often used to penalise crimes committed by the poor or ordinary people, who have little access to the justice system (they are unaware of the law and their rights). So, as under sharia law, corporal punishment is promptly dispensed for ordinary persons, whereas those with wealth and connections may use a “legal loophole” through their lawyers to avoid punishment.
In your opinion, what is the reason for these problems?
There was no strong discussion prior to the imposition of the sharia law, resulting in many loopholes and deficiencies. This was because in 2003, while Aceh was still under a conflict situation, the central government offered the sharia law as an attempt to reduce the conflict. This is therefore a one-sided product that did not involve the people of Aceh, and thus did not get full approval.
What is the government doing to solve this problem?
I see that the government tends to ignore human rights violations occurring under the implementation of the sharia law. Although one international NGO has reminded them that the sharia law violates human rights, the government denied it and simply noted that the sharia law must be respected as a specialty of Aceh. This statement underlines the lack of discussion between the government and other parties.
What is the ulama’s (Indonesian muslim clergy) response to this problem?
The ulama is the party most opposed to the revision of the sharia regulation. They are highly pro-sharia, and any efforts to revise it according to human rights would be taken as anti-sharia. Therefore, in my opinion, the ulama must be given a proper understanding of human rights by competent parties.
What is the civil society doing to solve this problem? And what is the result?
We have already submitted some of the case findings, including reports from KontraS, a civil society working group and the UN Committee Against Torture to the competent parties. They were resistant to our findings however, due to their lack of human rights understanding. We have not taken any legal action as of yet, as this is still a very sensitive issue in Aceh.
In your opinion, what is the best solution to solve the problem?
There must be a conducive dialogue amongst all parties about human rights and the limitations and loopholes of the local sharia regulation. This dialogue should also be attended by legislative and executive officers of Indonesia. The purpose of such a dialogue would be to reach an agreement; if no agreement is reached, then legal action should be taken, such as a legislative or judicial review. However, legal action will not solve the problem if there is no adequate pre-condition (agreement by all parties in Aceh).
The views shared in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the AHRC, and the AHRC takes no responsibility for them.
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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.