Stop the ORMAS Bill! - An interview with Longgena Ginting

Longgena Ginting Greenpeace Indonesia"Indonesia is home to massive environmental and cultural resources. By protecting civil society, we can help to ensure a greater degree of protection for these local and global assets, many of which are fundamental to supporting life on this planet."

Longgena Ginting, Country Director of Greenpeace Indonesia, speaks to CIVICUS about Indonesia’s Mass Organisation Bill and the serious risks that it poses to civil society in Indonesia.

What kind of environment does civil society in Indonesia operate in?

With the fall of the Suharto Regime in 1998 and the advent of our current political era, sometimes referred to as the “New Indonesia”, a robust and variegated civil society sector has emerged including student activist groups, traditional governance organizations and  independent trade unions. These groups play a fundamental role in balancing state authority and in supporting the development and implementation of equitable and just government policies.

However, despite their wide-reaching contributions to development, the economy and environmental protection, CSOs, particularly those advocating for sensitive topics, experience onerous operational challenges in Indonesia.

Under the guise of the so-called global “war on terror”, there has been a rise in conservatism and attendant restrictions on civil society in the country. The government has sought to introduce a spate of new legislations including the Intelligence Law, the National Security Bill, and the Bill on Mass Organisations (or ORMAS bill) which undermine key democratic freedoms. Criticism and protests against large government projects including major mining activities declared ‘national strategic areas’ is also not tolerated. Police and security personnel routinely engage in violent clashes with activists, including farmers advocating for the return of their lands and workers demonstrating against the lack of access to basic worker rights and protection.

The government is planning to push through a restrictive bill on mass organisations through Indonesia’s Parliament. What are the key concerns in regard to the bill?

If passed,  the ORMAS Bill would, without a doubt, restrict democratic and civic space in the country. Certain elements of the state, backed by interests within the corporate sector, are pushing for this bill as a means to restrict CSO activities. The bill includes some very draconian  and overly broad provisions which would grant a disproportionate level of power and discretion to the state to undermine and stifle the activities of independent civil society.

The government’s original motive behind introducing the ORMAS Bill was to provide a means to curtail the violent and destabilising activities of certain extremist groups, but its contents have since morphed into a vague and generalized series of regulations which would threaten the independence of both national and international civil society groups in the country.  

Under the draft bill, which parliament is scheduled to vote on by mid-April, CSOs are subjected to unwarranted prescriptions including provisions requiring that CSOs conform to Pancasila - the official State philosophy, while refraining from taking action which would ‘endanger the unity and safety of the Unitary Republic of Indonesia.’ It has also been proposed under the bill that civil society groups would be prohibited from undertaking activities already under the jurisdiction of the government and police. Discretion to forcibly suspend or dissolve CSOs would be consolidated in the hands of the government, allowing the government to close CSOs without the consent of an independent court.

What actions are civil society groups taking to oppose the restrictive aspects of the bill?

We have been working very closely with a national coalition of CSOs and human rights activists to oppose the adoption of the bill and we are in the process of building a strong and inclusive domestic movement. We are talking to CSOs throughout the country, from faith based organisations to indigenous communities,  labour organisations and the general public.  

Together with other local supporters, we are preparing to challenge the ORMAS Bill at the Constitutional Court. We are further lobbying members of parliament, and have initiated a media campaign to raise awareness about the potential injustice resulting from the passage of the Ormas Bill in its current form.  We are also seeking solidarity from the international community to help galvanise opposition to the bill. However, there is much to be done. Vested interests in the country are working tirelessly to ensure the bill is adopted swiftly and without resistance. Together, civil society must coalesce in opposition to the bill and the flagrant limitations which would arise from its adoption and application.  

How can international civil society support civil society colleagues in Indonesia towards creating a more enabling environment for civil society?

If this bill is passed, the government will be granted unprecedented power to control the civil and political rights of ordinary citizens. This power will very likely be used to defend elite interests.  Indonesia is home to massive environmental and cultural resources. By protecting civil society, we can help to ensure a greater degree of protection for these local and global assets, many of which are fundamental to supporting life on this planet.

We need to act as a global community to protect basic human rights such as the right to freedom of association and expression that this bill would imperil. This global trend of suppression of CSO voices by corporate elites and those in power has been witnessed by us all from Russia to Ethiopia to Venezuela.

Indonesia is, at this very moment, at a tipping point, and we are calling on  our colleagues worldwide to hear our story and speak up against this repressive and dangerous bill. Global solidarity and action could go a long way to exposing the injustice that we are currently facing.

This bill must be rejected. Please help us educate the global community about this critical issue.

Longgena Ginting is the Country Director of Greenpeace Indonesia. He has been part of the environmental movements both in Indonesia and globally for more than 20 years. He worked for WALHI (the Indonesian Forum for Environment) in Jakarta, FoEI (Friends of the Earth International) in Amsterdam before he joined Greenpeace Indonesia last December.