Food Systems Governance

How to explain that despite growth in food production, many are still lacking of adequate food? This is a classic question that has been investigated by many leading lights from various disciplines, including the Noble Laureate Amartya Sen in his groundbreaking research in the 1970s. But challenges remain and this is the focus of the new volume edited by Amanda Kennedy and Jonathan Liljeblad from University of New England Australia. The title of this book is Food Systems Governance: Challenges for justice, equality and human rights. Their starting point is law, and what is the role of law to form the pivot around which these issues are addressed in society in the form of food governance mechanisms. Accordingly the chapters in this book address a range of issues in food governance revolving around questions of justice, fairness, equality and human rights.

I am honoured to have been given the opportunity to contribute to this exciting publication. My chapter entitled ‘Transnational Legal Processes of the Right to Food: Lessons Learned from Papua, Indonesia’, discusses whether and how the growing network between transnational actors that advocate the right to food delivers political change, in the sense that they challenge order the power in society. The paper is based on the paper I presented during the Conference under a similar title, held in Beijing China, May 2014.

Who owns the right to food?

The journal of Third World Quarterly recently published my article entitled: “Who owns the right to food? Interlegality and competing interests in agricultural modernisation in Papua, Indonesia”.

The  article dicusses the extent to which the competing as well as conjoined interests of actors involved in agricultural modernisation are reconfiguring the right to food. Agricultural modernisation provides such a context to study the interplay between global and local levels and between various legal and normative frameworks, as well as how the right to food is promoted or jeopardised in these interactions. The focus here is twofold: first, it is on existing norms linked to the wider understanding of the right to food; and second, on the diverse interests supported by the state, corporations and civil society organisations, particularly indigenous rights movements.

Law, Democracy and the Socio-Economic Rights

The problem of implementation deficits may be an inherent trait for human rights in general, including socio-economic rights. In this regard, much commentary on human rights in developing countries, particularly written by international human rights NGOs, as well as from the rights-based approaches camps, has suggested that the problem lies primarily in inadequate protection for human rights in countries’ legal frameworks. Here, many view law, accepted, ratified and/or codified as a powerful force for change. The focus has been on identifying legislative and policy gaps. But what explains countries’ slow and uneven progress in implementing socio-economic rights?

An article written by Andrew Rosser and Maryke van Diermen critically engages with this topic by arguing that the most important determinants of socio-economic rights outcomes in developing countries, such as Indonesia, lie in the political and social, rather than the legal realm. Indonesian average score on the Social and Economic Rights Fulfilment (SERF) Index shows an uneven improvement across socio-economic rights. The country has made significant progress in the rights to education and health but rather less progress in the rights to food, work and housing. The authors argue that the competing elite network over resources and power, such as reflected in the electoral process, has created a persistent obstacle for realising these rights, despite an increasing political and social space claimed and acquired by social movements.

I support this argument but also think that this approach reduces the scale of implementation problems into mere non-fulfillment ones. The implementation of socio-economic rights requires protection as much as fulfillment. And therefore a question is asked: doesn’t legal institutional design matter in how states respect, protect and fulfil these rights? Because what is missing in the argument is how the dynamic between actors affects existing enforcement mechanisms, for instance the role of prosecutorial independence and prosecutorial accountability.

A prosecutorial organ is in charge of the investigation and prosecution of violation of human rights, which makes this institution a key gatekeeper to the courts, thus the protection and realisation of socio-economic rights. Empowered with prosecutorial discretion, a prosecutorial organ dictates what, when, and whom to prosecute. The institutional design of the prosecutorial organ varies across time and across countries, which raises an important question on the discretion to prosecute (i.e., the more accountable a prosecutorial organ is). On this topic, Veronica Michel argues that the less this discretion is shaped by political pressures (i.e., the more independent the prosecutorial organ is), the more likely we will observe the initiation of prosecutions against state agents. For the case of socio-economic rights, this thesis should be tested even in political contexts that appear to be against the rights-based approach to development.

Future research on socio-economic rights should incorporate the interplay between political economy aspects and the role of prosecutorial organs and prosecutorial discretion, as this is pivotal to our understanding of how and when claims are successful or deceased.

International People’s Tribunal of 1965 Tragedy

The hearing of the International People’s Tribunal 1965 (IPT 1965) was organized in the Hague last week, 11-13 November 2015.

A people’s tribunal is not something new. There have been several tribunals established, aiming to bring truth and justice and to address past human rights violations. Related to Indonesia examples are the People’s Tribunal on East Timor, Tokyo’s Tribunal, and Biak Tribunal. As a people tribunal, the concluding statement of the Judges of the IPT 1965 is not legally binding.

Yet that does not mean that the IPT 1965 is insignificant.  First, because it still carries a moral force in domestic and international politics. Despite the rejections made by several politicians including the vice president, the tribunal did renew the discussion about the atrocities taking place at the aftermath of the 30th September Movement or known as G30S/PKI. For the international level, the judgment, expected next year, will be delivered in front of  the United Nations, again scaling up the issue further.

Secondly, testimonies of victims, witnesses and experts bring formerly suppressed insights and nuances of the tragedy. They are important as acts of democratizing the process of historicization.

Thirdly, the IPT 1965 is a crucial milestone towards achieving the reconciliation between victims, perpetrators, the state and the wider population as constitutive parts of Indonesian society, something that has often been mentioned by both the Indonesian government, victims and social movements. Reconciliation of course requires revealing the truth, particularly a version of truth that comes from and accepted by every parties involved and affected by the tragedy.

Finally, resolving the past is an interest of every society. It signifies the extent of the future that society can claim. And it can set up possibilities to negotiate the state and people relationship as well as to reconfigure citizenship.

Water Privatisation

Water privatisation is a human rights violation, said the Central Jakarta Disctrict Court in their ruling of March 24, 2015.

The court invalidated the contract of PT PAM Lyonnaise Jaya and Aetra and found that the public and private partnership was negligent in respecting and fulfilling the human right to water for Jakarta residents.

This decision is a culmination of years of legal struggles and political resistances involving major human rights organisations, trade unions, and water justice organisations. Complaints include that the water service has been lower and leakages have been increasing since the agreement signed in 2004 following the pressure from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Moreover, Jakarta has the highest water tariff, about four times more than the Indonesian average and ten times more than that of Southeast Asian countries.

Important to note in this decision is that, first, the Court deliberately made a reference to Article 28 I of the Constitution that asserts, among others, the right to life.  They were of the opinion that no violations were found to the aspect of water availability, which is the subject of natural resource management as asserted in Article 33 of the Constitution. However, the Court found evidences on the hindrance of access to water since the implementation of the private and public partnership and therefore considered it as a human rights violation. Second, the court annulled the Law No. 7 of 2004,  which regulates the availability of water in Indonesia. The Law was considered insufficient to provide benchmarks pertaining to what extent private actors can have the authority over the governance of access and availability of water.