Adat Law Needs to Adhere to Human Rights Standards

This week a joint United Nations Development Program and the Indonesian National Development Planning Agency project Strengthening Access to Justice in Indonesia (SAJI) held its fourth workshop in Palu, Central Sulawesi.

The workshop aimed to strengthen adat (the informal justice system) in the province and focused on enhancing the existence of customary law by making it more compliant with national law and human rights standards.

The draft adat guidelines clarify key actors, functions, principles, and fair and accountable processes that apply special measures on gender equality related issues and are written in a general fashion to serve various kinds of customary laws.

They are a reference for adat leaders to resolve disputes in their communities and will prevent customary laws from disappearing throughout time since it’s mostly unwritten.

To this day, the Indonesian government has failed to recognize informal justice systems, even though it is part of the national law system and can provide legal certainty to various communities throughout Indonesia.

It is a form of alternative dispute resolution and aims to provide a peaceful agreement, as a restorative justice principle, between parties involved and restore harmony in the community through “social healing,” particularly in post-conflict provinces like Aceh, Maluku and Central Sulawesi.

There is a high need to improve the role of women and the understanding of gender equality in informal justice systems and it is crucial that women’s rights and their roles in the traditional community are guaranteed in customary laws.

At the workshop, Rukmini, a female customary leader who has been at the forefront of improving women’s rights in informal justice systems, expressed the need for women’s roles to be revitalized and the concept of human rights to be introduced to adat leaders in order to eliminate the long inherited feudalistic thoughts among men.

Women often fulfill the role of mediator but do not fulfill a decision-making role. Due to varieties in informal justice systems, women fulfill different positions and face diverse sanctions, which could lead to unsatisfactory punishments for female victims.

Customary law is dynamic and constantly evolving and the process can be executed in a quick, cheap and accurate manner. For informal justice systems to be more successful, the empowerment and support of the Indonesian government is crucial.

Angelica Reitsma is an intern for UNDP-SAJI project.