Monday, November 03, 2008

Educating Law with Peasant Communities: Struggling together for the right to land

Thousands of land conflict cases have been reported to the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) over the past few decades. These cases can be categorised into three main issues: Firstly, land expropriation and forced evictions. Secondly, the problem of compensation and restitution, specifically when peasant communities are offered compensation that is not equivalent to the real value of their land. Lastly, there is the problem of environmental disaster and pollution, which has an impact on the production process.

These problems are making peasant communities suffer as well as decreasing their standard of living. Therefore, they are suffering violations of both their civil and political rights, as well as their economic and social rights. This occurs often and the land conflict causes peasant families to become victims of intimidation and torture, sometimes even causing them death.

The types of violators can be separated into two categories: (1) private entities, in particular corporations and landlords (2) government institutions, for instance: Department of forestry, including the military and police. These violators abuse the communities in order to use their land for housing, plantations, fishponds, dams and other purposes. Besides using repression and intimidation tactics, the violators are also using the law to expropriate peasants’ land and weaken the peasant movement.

This article will describe LBH’s experience in organising and conducting a law education program in Lampung, South Sumatra and Bangka. The cases and training experiences in these areas are unique examples of some cases advocated by LBH. They are unique because the peasant communities in these regions have successfully reclaimed their land, something that is uncommon with land conflict struggle in Indonesia.

Law Education for Peasant Communities

Peasant communities are a target group for law training and education organised by LBH. In this context, the peasant community can be categorised into two main groups: tuna kisma (landless peasant) including labor-peasants who work in plantations belonging to private or State companies, and petani gurem, peasants who just have limited and small amounts of land, not enough to earn profits from the process of production.

Living together during law education

Law education and learning takes place within the peasant communities and the lawyers, activists and volunteers who work for LBH lived together with peasant during the training. The live-in aspect means that LBH’s staff stays in peasants’ homes for a period of time during the training. Below are the methods being exercised during the stay-in approach.

Firstly, LBH’s staffs commonly receives reports from peasants who are victims of human rights violations. The staffs will then discuss the details of the case with the client, such as the number of victims and perpetrators, the location where the violation took place, and with that information they will build a case study.

Secondly, The staff will discuss the case study with the other LBH staff members in order to formulate strategic planning for advocacy on behalf of the victims. One of the advocacy programs is law education in the villages. However, before conducting education work, there are some necessary steps to take in such as initial fact-finding activities to cross check the informations from the client. This informations will be used in order to prepare materials as well as logistics.

Thirdly, a team will be established composes of two or three staff members and which uses a rotation method for organising education in the village. The rotation method is applied in order to monitor the cases between staff that are on location in the village and in the office. In the village, LBH’s staff members also identify people who could be trained further in order to gain the skills necessary to become a paralegal – who can then act as a “local lawyer” in her/his community.

These education processes uses materials developed by LBH’s staff. The materials contains theory of law and positive law, including constitutional law as well as legal concepts regarding land and human rights as a tool in struggling for land rights. The law concepts are discussed between the staff and peasants and covers, for instance, themes of justice, law institution and law enforcement. Meanwhile, they also identify which laws can strengthen the struggle itself. A pocket book, leaflet, poster and other materials has been produced as a material kit. For example, LBH produced a pocket book regarding people’s rights in the judicial process as contained in Indonesian Penal Code Act, which benefited people if they faced problems of arrest and detention. As another example, LBH also produced a poster containing a list of articles, which gives protection for peasants and highlights the right to land.

Peasant communities in Lampung, South Sumatra and Bangka

Peasant communities are using law mechanisms and law arguments to defend their rights. However, these mechanisms are only used if they believed the results can strengthen their legal positions. As a result, in many cases peasant communities do not exercise the mechanism as they feel there are limitations and problems in law institutions and law enforcement. These consist of problems of corruption and red tape in judicial bodies. Many facts show that court decisions can even weaken the position of peasants and further violate their rights. For instance, if the court enacts a decision to give land to a corporation and a peasant is unable to provide a certificate or land title, it can become a justification for the corporation to carry out a forced eviction against the community. It is a common story for peasant families not having a land title. Land for them have been obtained based on inheritance. In some cases the land has been passed on to them even before Indonesia declared its independence from ?

In Lampung, South Sumatra and provinces of Bangka where LBH and peasant communities are working together to defend their land rights, peasant organisations are learning law from the LBH staff.

In the province of Lampung, there are two villages, Sidodadi Asri Jati Agung and Kertosari Tanjung Bintang, South Lampung District where people are managing law arguments and mechanisms in order to reclaim their land. About 600 peasant families faces land conflict against a State Corporation. After, several sessions on law studies and practicing strategies with the peasants the community efforts has yielded success

Nowadays, 600 families have power over the land. They are now organising their communities for land redistribution. The peasants also builds their houses on their hard fought land.

Likewise in Sidodadi village, a corporation is using the same tactics in law mechanisms to sue peasant families before local court in order to argue that the land is a state property. Constant meetings and education work with the villagers and LBH staffs also pays for the attainment of land for the peasants. They have won the case and have started to build a local market for the community people. In the opening ceremony of the market early this year , the villagers has even invited local government officials to give a speech and take pride of their achievement in struggling to own a land.

It can be said that these success stories could not be separated from the realities that peasants, LBH staffs and other organisations has worked together in cooperation, sacrifices, patience and hard work in the struggle to reclaim peasants’ rights. As a result, twenty thousands families from 80 villages in Lampung formed a peasant organisations, Lampung Peasant Council (DTL). At the start, LBH was involved in building these organisations. Many of the peasant families had become LBH’s client. LBH regularly discusses and educates peasants concerning the law and their rights.

In South Sumatra and Bangka, the cases are almost the same as in Lampung story. It is not always that the peasants learnt from LBH staffs. LBH people in humbleness are also learning with the peasant communities. In Musi Banyu Asin and Bangka hundreds of people in these areas reclaimed their natural resources and are defending them through litigation and non-litigation processes including demonstrations (mass rallies), lobbying and campaign work.

Learning points

From the illustration above, it can be said that lessons regarding law education are being learned through the live-in method. Firstly, peasant communities and LBH staff can examine the experiences of the peasants, develop a theory and concept of law using facts and their daily realities. Therefore, the education materials developed by LBH came from the real experiences of the people and not mere concepts.

Secondly, In the process of living with the peasants, the peasants become more open to speak about their problems. Some peasants felt proud that lawyers would be staying in their homes and willing to take a risk with them and also teaches them law. The education methodology is not formal and law training is performed anywhere, in peasant houses, farms, or organisation offices.

Thirdly, LBH’s staff and lawyers get direct knowledge in how to handle cases and these experiences are very useful when they are representing peasants before the court. Moreover, peasants can also use the law and “duplicate” (Stregthened) lawyer’s argument when they faces state structures and corporations.

In conclusion, the type of law education that makes use of the live-in approach has an impact and influences and promotes social change in peasant communities. It is now possible to say that it is relatively easy to find peasants in remote areas who could argue well and who are experts in speaking about the law, including acts and law mechanisms, as well as any lawyer in a capital city.

* Article for ARRC

End Note

(1) The Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation was established in 1970 and having 14 branch offices in main capital of provinces. The offices received cases from the poor and marginal people. These cases are received by certain division, which are established in LBH. The prodeo lawyers offer service for peasant, fisheries, labour, urban poor, student, non-governmental organisation’s activist and other elements of society who become victims of human rights violence.
(2) Law education is conducted by LBH based on the need of community. Therefore, education curriculums are developed based on target group.
(3) In level of staff who work in LBH, it can be categorised into two groups: a staff who graduated from law faculty and obtaining lawyer permit and staffs who do not have a lawyer permit – they could graduated from other disciplines. Meanwhile, a volunteer is everyone who have finished certain process and being decided and selected as LBH’s volunteer.
(4) Not all cases based on complain or report from client. It also based on LBH’ staff initiative, for instance, as a follow up action a news in mass media.
(5) Education materials are given based on priority need of peasant communities in their village. For instance, material concerning economic, social and cultural rights is given after materials concerning people organisation.
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