Jakarta Globe | Insight

Upholding Victims’ Rights Is the Core Principle Behind the ‘Elimination of Sexual Violence Bill’

Indonesia has a major problem with sexual violence. A study by the Central Statistics Agency shows that over 33 percent of women aged 15 to 64 years old have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Similarly shocking figures come from the Jakarta-based National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan), which received 5,785 reports of sexual violence in 2016 alone.

The cases reported occurred across the archipelago, from the easternmost province of Papua to the western corner of Aceh; sexual violence was recorded in all spheres of life. Despite the widespread nature of the problem, current laws are acutely unequipped to address the issue.

Only a few forms of sexual violence are regulated by law and the definition of rape in the criminal code is extremely narrow and outdated. The current definition, “any person who by using force or threat of force, forces a woman to have sexual intercourse with him outside of marriage,” is limited to vaginal penetration and must occur between unmarried persons, meaning that thousands of rape victims whose experiences do not align with this definition are unable to seek justice.

The law currently does not cover the broad spectrum of sexual violence occurring in Indonesia. Other legislation that regulates crimes of sexual violence, including the Pornography Law and the Elimination of Domestic Violence Law, are also limited in scope. According to Komnas Perempuan, these laws — which should protect victims of gender-based violence — have even been used to criminalize women victims of violence.

Responding to the shortcomings in the laws, Komnas Perempuan, working in partnership with a diverse network of civil society organizations that work on the ground providing assistance to victims of sexual violence, has formulated a new code, entitled the “Elimination of Sexual Violence Bill.” This is a comprehensive piece of draft legislation based on years of lessons learned through directly handling cases of sexual violence and monitoring violence across the archipelago.

The bill, as it was originally formulated, establishes a system for handling cases of sexual violence that is friendly to victims. The bill revolutionizes the legal process and provides for much-needed reform of a system that continues to cause the re-traumatization of sexual violence victims.

It focuses on the prevention of violence, protection for victims and witnesses, rehabilitation for victims and punishment for perpetrators. It details nine forms of sexual violence that have been deemed by experts to cover the broad spectrum of sexual violence occurring across Indonesia.

The path of the bill, however, has not been a smooth process. The draft bill that was formulated by Komnas Perempuan, the Service Provider Forum and Commission III of the House of Representatives contained 182 articles.

The government, led by the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection, has proposed cutting 130 articles, leaving only a skeleton of the originally formulated bill. The cuts include removing five of the nine forms of sexual violence from the bill and removing crucial protections for victims of sexual violence.

Komnas Perempuan is now struggling for the retention of the key articles in the bill to ensure that it can comprehensively plug current gaps in the law and be a force to address the emergency of sexual violence in Indonesia.

Some of the strongest opposition to the bill has come predictably from individuals and organizations that mistake the purpose and origins of the draft legislation. A number of these groups have argued the bill should not be passed as it contains terminology and concepts that are not in accordance with norms in Indonesian society.

Even the term “sexual violence” has been criticized by confused groups who contend that the definition of sexual violence contained in the bill comes from the “Western world” and is not applicable to Indonesia or the religious principles that exist here.

Opposition to the bill is not due to these groups really being against increasing protections for victims of sexual violence, or being opposed to maximizing efforts to prevent sexual violence occurring in society, but rather due to misguided notions about the origins and aims of the Elimination of Sexual Violence Bill.

This is a bill that has been created by listening to the lived experiences and aspirations of thousands of Indonesian victims of sexual violence. It is the combined product of a diverse and dynamic women’s movement in Indonesia, of which Komnas Perempuan is only a small part. The Elimination of Sexual Violence Bill does not contravene notions of religion, nor is it a Western import; it is a concrete realization of the voices of victims that responds to the reality on the ground.

In March 2017, when the world’s first Women’s Ulema Congress met in Cirebon, West Java, the assembled religious scholars, numbering over 500, discussed the issue of sexual violence as one of three topics of large religious deliberations. At the end of the historic conference, the female religious scholars delivered recommendations to the government that included a recommendation that the Elimination of Sexual Violence Bill be speedily passed through the House of Representatives.

On Feb. 7, 2018, Prince Zeid Ra`ad al Hussein, a Muslim from the Arab world and the current United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, completed his first official mission to Indonesia. Komnas Perempuan, performing one of its roles as a bridge between civil society and the international human rights mechanisms of the United Nations, facilitated a meeting between the high commissioner and survivors of past human rights abuses, victims of gender based violence and women human rights defenders.

The Elimination of Sexual Violence Bill was brought up by civil society organizations and by Komnas Perempuan in a closed meeting with the high commissioner. Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday (07/02), Zeid, recognizing the need for law reform, urged the parliament to pass the important piece of draft legislation that provides “essential protection for victims of sexual and gender based violence.”

The legislation has been drafted in cooperation and consultation with scores of service provider organizations working at the grass roots level across the archipelago, has enjoyed support from the world’s largest congress of female Islamic scholars and the first Arab high commissioner for human rights. The bill is opposed by parties who lack information about the problem of sexual violence in Indonesia, the bill’s history, its aims and its basis.

The successful path of the bill depends on the consolidation of all elements of civil society, including groups who have thus far voiced their opposition to the draft legislation. The education of all stakeholders about the true nature and necessity of this bill will ensure that the Elimination of Sexual Violence Bill retains as many protections for victims and measures for prevention of violence as possible when it is passed into legislation.

Jack Britton is a volunteer with Komnas Perempuan in Jakarta. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Komnas Perempuan or the Jakarta Globe. Reproduction is authorized provided the source is acknowledged. The author can be reached via email jackbritton@live.com.au or jackbritton@support.komnasperempuan.go.id