Monday, February 18, 2008

Constitution and Sustainable Development

Pan Mohamad Faiz, New Delhi
Note: This article was published in The Jakarta Post (18/02/2008)

According to the Human Development Report 2007, launched by the United Nation Development Program, the Human Development Index (HDI) for Indonesia is 0.728, giving the country a ranking of 107th out of 177 countries, and 7th among the Southeast Asian countries.

The most significant reason for this situation is the drawbacks caused by sustainable development in Indonesia. Some people strongly believe that raising the challenge of sustainable development can help the Indonesian policy debate go forward in a better direction.

At the heart of the problem is how to deal with promoting the sustainable development of Indonesia. One of the best approaches can be viewed from the perspective of human rights protection for the people.

Basically, sustainable development encompasses three pillars based on environmental, economic, and social values that are interdependent and mutually reinforce human rights. Between sustainable development and human rights there is an inseparable relationship and a respect for human rights that has been recognized as a prerequisite for development.

For instance, the ability to participate in sustainable development is hindered when fundamental human rights are threatened by a lack of food, health, education, shelter, freedom of expression and the right to political participation. In other words, without respect for human rights, the ability of people to move toward a sustainable future will be hindered.

Furthermore, development is unsustainable where the rules of law and equity do not exist; where ethnic, religious or sexual discrimination is rampant; where there are restrictions on free speech, free association, and on the media; or where large numbers of people live in abject and degrading poverty.

Human rights, based on respect for the dignity and worth of all human beings, are usually rooted in the country's constitutional and legal framework.

The legal system of Indonesia is based on the idea of the supremacy of the Constitution, whereby the Constitution is given the highest authority. Implementing the essential rights and freedoms for human dignity, as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, creates a common standard of achievement for all people and all nations.

The Constitution of Indonesia has clearly provided similar provisions under Chapter XA on the fundamental rights of citizens. The protection of human rights, guaranteed by the 1945 Constitution, therefore becomes imperative as a prerequisite for development. According to the Legal Aid Institution's (Jakarta) annual report, in 2007 it received 1,140 complaints on human rights violations with the number of victims roughly at 20,837.

Then the question arises, what mechanism can protect human rights as constitutional rights of citizens? According to Danie Bran, the best way to deal with human rights protection is to challenge the state and constitutional issues throughout the courts.

In recent history, the concept of a constitutional adjudication has become a consistent feature of democratic governance, particularly in Europe. At present, however, this no longer applies only to Europe. After the amendment of the 1945 Constitution, Indonesia established a Constitutional Court in response to the demand for a strengthening of checks and balances in the system of state administration.

Its responsibilities are stated in Article 24C of the 1945 Constitution, namely: reviewing laws against the Constitution, determining disputes over the authorities of state institutions whose power is given by the Constitution, deciding on the dissolution of political parties, deciding on disputes on the results of a general election, and an obligation to decide in cases regarding the impeachment of the president and/or the vice President.

In the context of human rights protection, the power of constitutional adjudication by reviewing laws against the Constitution, known as a "Constitutional Review", is the core of the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court.

As of late 2007, barely three years after its establishment, the Constitutional Court had decided on 33 out of 133 cases of constitutional review, with the verdict that the laws reviewed were unconstitutional. Most of these cases violated the human rights guaranteed under the Constitution.

Nonetheless, the constitutional review system is confined to the review of laws. Consequently, all government actions and government regulations believed to violate the provisions on human rights contained in the Constitution cannot be reviewed comprehensively either by the Constitutional Court or the Supreme Court.

In order to strengthen sustainable development in Indonesia by promoting human rights protection, the constitutional review system should be reformed. Using the comparative studies analysis, however, we can learn and find possibilities to adopt features from constitutional review systems in Germany and Korea, since their systems are comparable with Indonesia's.

Some recommendations that can be addressed from those countries are:

First, the constitutional review system should be allowed to review the constitutionality of all type of legislation.

Second, constitutional complaints can be lodged by an individual toward their constitutional rights.

Using two additional systems of constitutional review already mentioned, we can promote the human rights protection of the people as the basic foundation of sustainable development in Indonesia.

* Pan Mohamad Faiz is a postgraduate student in comparative constitutional law at the University of Delhi. He can be reached at


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