19 December 2006

Our Approach ..

Participatory research and education of economic, social and cultural rights to help enforce and promote basic human rights in Indonesia


Imperative to develop the standard of human rights
Human rights have been acknowledged and fought for over 50 years since the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as “a general standard for the success of all people and all nations.” Rampant human rights violations in Indonesia, however, have not subsided, its conditions worsen instead. In the recent years, we have seen civilian governments have taken the place of the former repressive military regime since the downfall of former President Soeharto in 1998. Yet the impact of the previous three decades of authoritarian rule, in the forms of the increase of structural injustice, the overburden of international debts, harder integration into global economic order, unresolved domestic and social conflicts, ever rampant corruption, awkwardly transformed into further breaches of basic rights, particularly of the marginalized and the poorest people. There are many cases in which the state and public corporations have committed human rights violations. Even, such violations have often been perpetrated blatantly, involving police, military officers and thugs under public spotlight. To date, it urges us to properly respond such deterioration since we maintain the agenda of promoting human rights are inherently binding for any human being. Hu­man rights constitute of non-negotiable principles affirming the dignity and all rights of human being. Indonesia, after all, is a participating nation in that universal declaration.

As we have been promoting human rights, we did not only face the worsening of rights condition, but also other difficulties. People’s leaders and social groups also often violated basic human rights with forced political alibis, particularly communitarian-based issues, such as exploiting ethnic, religious sentiments. It has been recently rule of day to negate human rights through mass mobilizations (interspersed by attacks, rampages, terrors and intimidations against human rights workers) and exploiting communitarian issues.

If human rights are to be promoted in the future, the very logic of social and political visions is crucially to question [Nickel 1996]. Though there are oppositions from all sides, the vision of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which presumes the social ideals of basic needs fulfillment and of the absence of exploitation, the necessity to act in response of injustice has yet become more and more imminent. However, the problem is the unbridgeable gap between ideals and reality in the developing countries, that such ideals of the universal declaration are too abstract to put them into practice, assuming diverse conditions, questioning viability, realism, and economic extent. One specific right may contradict the other, and accomplishing all the rights is to confront the utmost difficulties.

Now, more than before, the challenging standpoint of upholding the ideal dimensions of human rights is then to reformulate and to accomplish those basic rights with specific manners into feasible human undertaking. To carry out such responsibility, one should not fail to keep in mind that the process to accomplish human rights as protection instruments for minimum conditions for proper life for all women and men, for instance, is in fact dy­namic in nature, as we also realize the standard of human rights is not static. The pro­mo­tion of human rights, accordingly, demands for not only fighting for the implementation of human rights standard in dynamic social framework that develops in a given society, but also the promotion of conditions for transforming economic structures.

The imperative for revising human rights interpretation
Human rights involve complex and multifaceted relations of who own the rights and who are responsible for accomplishing them. Traditional interpretation of human rights views the state as the main responsible and also the culprit of all rights violations. Such interpretation emphasizes historical facts that civil rights and other basic rights struggle is to effectively check state power abuse. At the same time, however, the real political economy condition marked by massive expansion of corporate business power in the last decades unveils the shift of the locus of that power. This critical shift has so far compelled us to reframe our understanding on human rights [Priyono 2002]. In reinterpreting human rights, there are at least three reasons why we should seriously deal with the expansion of business power.

First, the sources and the forms of power over the public at large has no longer been mono-center but poly-centers. Financial power of capital owners and their staff members whether to invest or not to do so, whether to buy the court of justice, or to put pressure for evicting slump areas, all is as concrete as the actual power of the president of the republic to enact laws.

Second, business power is anchored in its capacity to invest or not to invest. Such impervious might have brought about all administrations dizzy for the staggering power of capital owners to disinvest as they like it or not.

Third, business power manifests then in the financial potential to disrupt legal order and to unsettle legitimate governments with purchasing regulations, to abuse court of justice, police force, which often resulted in forced evictions of poor people, etc. Through such malicious procedures, the unbridled extent of corruption and collusion has taken place in the relation between public business and the administration.

This actual shift of the locus of power, consequently, should also motivate human rights movements to alter their point of view and their target orientation in understanding present reality. If the locus of power is no longer mono-center and surely not only in the hands of the government, the latter should not be held the only party responsible for abject human condition for rights violations. Individuals or agencies that hold public business power are also parties that have to take human rights norms into account. Human rights movements should not miss facing up to the ever increasing power of profit taking business that has beleaguered many aspects of public administration. For instance, in advocating descent pay and equal work rights, retaining strategy to target solely at the governments as the culprit of rights violation does no longer suffice the present demands of the transformed social reality. Since the administrations all over the world have now de facto reduced the scope of their supposed full obligations to provide for real jobs for all citizens —with giving their authorities up to market balance and private sectors, we then risk run short, if we inflexibly take single minded orientation.

Focus urgency on economic, social and cultural rights

Although it has been over three decades since the United Nation Organization took up the covenant of the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Ecosoc) —apart from the co­venant of Civil and Political Rights in 1966, common reality reveals that the imple­ment­ation of the first has been very deficient, as compared to the latter.

To complicate the matter, plain reality also tells us that the implementation of the economic, social and cultural rights themselves compel for the accomplishment of civil and political rights in order to enable the participating citizens to figure out, draft, implement and check public policies. However, the prevalence of such conditions does not entail the economic, social and cultural rights to precede the other rights, as both types of rights in fact go along together. One may lost her or his right to live, for instance, when she or he tries to make a claim over her right for safe work or right for equal wage or right for healthy environment. The obligation of the governments and other public agencies to protect civil and political rights applies also for their obligation to protect economic, social and cultural rights.

On the one hand, fresh investigation and research focusing on economic, social and cultural rights therefore are urgently required for the imbalance of knowledge and public awareness as we have been weighed down with efforts to fight against violation of civil and political rights. And moreover, the investigations should be performed strictly along with active participation of the targeted social groups we work with. First of all, human rights movements have long neglected rights of million of people, desecrated for iniquitous policies on social, economic and cultural rights, as we also realize that gross violations of civil and political rights very often represent merely symptoms of life-threatening infringement against economic, social and cultural rights. Several rights are always anchored into economic problems [Nickel 1996:216]. Secondly, focusing work on participatory researching economic, social and cultural rights, in the first place, constitutes imperative actions in order to find out the roots of the excessive abuse of basic human rights, either on the hands of individual perpetrators or structurally entrenched within the system of unjust power.

On the other hand, the fact of the business power expansion overwhelming most people has pleaded us to enlarge and strengthen the debilitated social movements networking. It is necessary nevertheless to gear up the monitoring activities towards unchecked business power practices. Human rights approach is sufficiently robust to these monitoring activities, particularly the economic, social and cultural rights, as this offers encompassing lines to view all dimensions of rights. This approach also provides vigor to shovel the most hidden violation of rights, as we realize the extent of rights violations have manifested into impersonal recklessness in economic dimension. We have witnessed that even relevant regulations specifically enacted to certain purposes have more than often missed the targets, such as then manifested into common social phenomena of drop out school children for economic reasons and cast away into street life, hunger and malnutrition in the villages, overburdened and much under-waged labors, city slump dwellers lacking of fresh water and sanitation, etc. While focusing on economic, social and cultural rights, we are not only to identify symptoms of rights violations, but we are also expected to wage campaigns against the main causes of the human rights violations. Quoting Consumer Association of Penang in Malaysia, as firmly underscoring the urgent necessity of focusing on economic, social and cultural rights in relation to children’s basic rights: “Children who collect cotton rolls in Egypt, shave sheep in Peru, pick tea leaves in Sri Lanka and sap rubber trees in Malaysian plantations, weave carpets in Iran, Pakistan and India, are the weakest parties and the most hidden within long economic chains that may easily be traced back to the stock exchange markets in New York, London, Amsterdam and Tokyo.”

Methods and approaches

This participatory investigation and research on human rights focusing on economic, social and cultural rights shall start from the very problems and hardship that have been experienced by social groups susceptible to rights violation, either in urban or rural circumstances. They have become preys and victims of excessive abuse of power within our societies, either by anti-reform public business or state actors. Optionally therefore, our first associate partners in the programs are for farmers, laborers, and informal sectors in the cities particularly street vendors.

The significance of farmers in these participatory activities refers to the rural phenomena of hunger and malnutrition threats. About 80 percent hungry people in the world are found in rural circumstances, and most of them are farmhand workers or small landed farmers. Hunger mostly takes place in the rural spaces, ironically in fact localities supposed to produce and spare staple foods. Although wars and natural disasters often contribute causes for scarcity of food but most famine is basically caused by human-made reasons [Spitz 1979]. Farmers who rely upon on lands have turned out to be the most vulnerable to rights violation for greedy profit taking business and state power abuses. Both powers have deprived works and lives of farmers for forced land acquisitions for industrial purposes that have drastically degraded healthy, sustainable environments and alien technologies of locally unsuitable imported products.

The decrease of expectation rate to work and to do business in the villages has driven people to move to the cities. The increase of city dwellers has reached 35.9 percent [SUPAS 1995]. Most of them (about 66 percent) work in informal sectors including street vendors. From total labor force of 80.1 million people in 1995, formal sectors have only been able to assist 31.38 percent laborers, while 68.62 percent depends on informal sectors. Street vendors, representing the biggest number among informal sectors in the cities, are the social groups vulnerable to rights violation, particularly economic and social rights. During this protracted economic crises, the figure of street vendors has considerably increased, a social aggravation that correlates to —take Jakarta, for instance— the intensified frequency of economic and social rights violation, as the city administration recurrently rampage their work equipments.

As for laborers, they represent the marginalized groups, which are the most helpless to deal with abusive public business power of capital owners. Their weak position in bargaining with the business management induces them into among the most predisposed to violation against the rights to work under favorable condition, proper wages for equal work and join labor unions at will. However, they are also the most strategic groups having potential capacity to monitor and check and control business power exploitation.

With focusing on the three kinds of social grouping, while conducting participatory action-oriented understanding and empowerment activities, we target at prying open fundamental questions of human rights in Indonesia, which in the next immediate steps becomes the basis for education and advocacy activities to promote human rights in this country.

The increased quality of implementation, protection and promotion of human rights for marginalized people

Generally the missions of this institute are (1) to support the implementation of human rights-embedded development programs, (2) to help realize respect and implementation of justice values.


1. To support the promotion and implementation of human rights, particularly the economic, social and cultural rights
2. To participate in the implementation and the promotion of economic, social and cultural rights for marginalized people
3. To help resolve cases of human rights violation in the country
4. To help ensure the transparency and accountability of public business power practices on which most people life depend on


1. Monitoring, investigation and research on human rights violations, particularly pertaining to economic, social and cultural rights, which have inflicted marginalized people (labors, farmers, and street vendors)
2. Monitoring business power practices with applying approaches of economic, social and cultural rights
3. The development of human rights education activities, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, for marginalized groups organizers
4. The establishment and the development of dialog for political, economic democratic actors
5. The development of information and documentation on public business and state power practices, and on human rights condition, particularly that of economic, social and cultural rights
6. Public dissemination of results of monitoring, surveys, investigation and research activities through public debates, seminars, workshops, books and journal publications as to support marginalized people advocacy and economic, social and cultural rights implementation


1. Position papers on public policies on public business practices as far the implementation and the promotion of economic, social and cultural rights are concerned
2. Examining indicators on the implementation and the promotion of economic, social and cultural rights
3. Models and modules of human rights education activities for public business agencies and education practitioners and marginalized people
4. Data and analyses on human rights violations, particularly pertaining to economic, social and cultural rights, which have inflicted marginalized people (labors, farmers, and street vendors)
5. Data and analyses on public business power abuses
6. Data and analyses on business power practices that support the implementation and the promotion of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights
7. The establishment and the development of working groups and organizations at grassroots level
8. Provision of dialog fora for political, economic democratic actors


1. Marginalized groups vulnerable to rights violations, i.e. labors, street vendors, and farmers
2. Public business power holder actors and groups
3. Decision-making state actors, either within the legislative, executive or judicative branches
4. Non-governmental organizations
5. Groups of education practitioners
6. Ethnic, religious groups

Agendas and working programs

The present agenda are designed for three years ahead. The priority of the working programs is justified by these options:

1. Cases revealing vast human rights abuses, implicating massive population
2. The necessity of investigating public policies pertaining to the violations of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights
3. The necessity of investigating public policies pertaining to the protection and the implementation of human rights in general
4. The vulnerable existence of social groups susceptible to human rights abuses but do not have accesses to education networks and human rights advocacy activities
5. Requirements from diverse parties for their concerns with such appalling rights conditions as to do investigations and analyses on state of affairs of human rights, to provide participatory education to strengthen their position, particularly on the specific range of economic, social and cultural rights

The structure of this organization

Working relation with other organizations. At the first phase, the working focus of this institute is participatory investigation and research, and education activities, involving the target groups of labors, farmers and city informal sectors, particularly street vendors. At the next phase, the previous are integrated into advocacy activities.

Since the very beginning, the participatory investigations circle is virtually projected into the second circle of education activities and later into advocacy. This is to provide opportunities to propel other organizations and institutions to get involved into becoming themselves education and or advocacy actors of human right promotion and implementation.

Accordingly, there should be internal limits of this institute in linking its works with other organizations. This limiting principle is necessary as we realize three reasons of: (1) avoiding overlapping activities with other organizations, (2) maintaining efficiency and effectiveness of the programs implementation, (3) preventing the management of this institute from distraction. Below is a chart defining the limit of this institute.**

  • Nickel, James W., Making Sense of Human Rights: Philosophical Reflection on Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Jakarta: Gramedia, 1996
  • Priyono, B. Herry, “Memahami Leviathan Baru” (Understanding New Leviathan), in Kompas daily, 5 April 2002
  • Spitz, Piere, Silent Violence: Famine and Inequality, Rome: UNRISD, 1979

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