UN condemns Indonesian justice

Only one in three of the nation’s judges, prosecutors and police officers have been willing to disclose their assets.

Indonesia’s legal system has taken a severe knock with a United Nations official describing it as one of the worst he has seen.

The damning verdict won immediate endorsement in the country after a state audit revealed that only one in three judges, prosecutors and police officers had disclosed their assets, setting off speculation that many are piling up money through corrupt practices.

Datuk Param Cumaraswamy, the UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, dropped the bombshell after spending more than a week meeting Supreme Court judges and officials in the Attorney-General’s Office.

‘I didn’t realise that the situation could be as bad as what I have seen,’ he said.

The Jakarta Post quoted him as saying that for a country of the size of Indonesia and with its continuing economic development, ‘it is something, I feel, should never have allowed to come to this extent’.

‘There are traffic jams, sky-high buildings and you think this is a country with a strong justice system,’ he said. The rapporteur, who noted a lack of political will to reform the legal system, will present his findings to the UN Human Rights Commission in April next year.

His comments came against a backdrop of some controversial court rulings, the most recent being a commercial court’s decision to declare Canadian-based insurer Manulife bankrupt.

The Supreme Court overturned the ruling, but the case, together with a government investigation into whether the three judges had accepted bribes, appears to have further blemished the image of courts in Indonesia.

Some lawyers, however, took offence at the Mr Cumaraswamy’s findings.

Mr Hamdan Zoelva, who runs a legal practice here, told The Straits Times: ‘Every country is bound to face some problems with its legal system, but I think the UN has taken it to the extreme in Indonesia’s case.’

But others said it was time that Indonesia was given a ‘wake-up call’ to make drastic changes to the system.

Mr Hendardi of Indonesian Legal Aid said: ‘We cannot hide behind nationalistic jargon and must accept the fact that there are serious flaws in our courts.

‘The UN finding is good shock therapy for the government but I don’t know whether it is going to be strong enough to get them to act because corruption is so deeply embedded in Indonesia.’

There were signs that Jakarta is acting on the matter – although at a snail’s pace.

The Audit Commission on State Officials’ Assets revealed that one in three of Indonesia’s judges, prosecutors and police officers had returned forms declaring their assets.

Mr Petrus Selestinus, of the commission, said that some judges, mostly those in big cities, were known to spend one billion rupiah (S$197,000) a year on cars or houses, although their salary was less than three million rupiah.

The most conspicuous example was the wealth report of Judge Hasan Basri, who ruled on the controversial Manulife case. He had declared assets of 1.289 billion rupiah, which he said was his savings since 1969.

But under investigation, he admitted that about 10 per cent of his assets had come from people who had won cases over which he presided.

Mr Petrus said: ‘We have summoned the judges to clarify their wealth. Most have failed to give a logical explanation.’

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