Ajeng Larasati lives by the credo that human rights inherently belong to every human being. Working with LBH Masyarakat, a community legal aid organization, as a legal advisor to drug addicts and offenders in communities throughout Jakarta, she observed the criminal justice sysem completely ignore this philosophy of human decency. During her daily counseling sessions, she educated the drug users on the basic legal rights of the accused, most important of which are the right to counsel and the right to be free from torture. However, she quickly noticed a debilitating lack of motivation and hope underlying these conversations. She listened to accounts of the severe abuse and discrimination experienced by members of this community, and the stigma law enforcement and the judicial sector far too regularly associate with them. They considered themselves marginalized in society, without access to the basic human rights formally enshrined in Indonesian law.
Ajeng realized this terrible phenomenon was not specific to drug users, but rather common to the poor throughout Indonesia. During her tenure as a legal advisor, she also coordinated the summer internship program at LBH Masyarakat, which enlisted the support of over 22 interns from around the world. She organized activities ranging from discussions with government institutions and NGOs, internal educational sessions, community legal empowerment events and case advocacy. This foray into the inner workings of LBH Masyarakat enlightened her to the greater challenges facing the indigent accused and the legal aid sector in Indonesia. She witnessed firsthand the disparity in legal access and education between the classes of society.
Ajeng further cemented her passion for legal advocacy through her representation of LBH Masyarakat at the Indonesian Coalition Against Torture (JAPI) and the Lapindo Mudflow Coalition. At these events she participated in roundtable discussions, rallies and panels, widening her perspective on the distinct approaches available to address legal challenges confronting the accused.
The Indonesian Criminal Procedural Code clearly outlines the basic legal rights entitled to all citizens, including the right to be informed of the charges faced and the right to defense counsel. However, the large majority of the accused and detained remain unaware of these privileges, and are thus unable to exercise them. While law enforcement and prosecutors are obliged to appoint lawyers for the indigent facing a potential sentence of over five years, this law is poorly implemented with little follow-through. Furthermore, police are not required to supply information regarding the facts of their case. This combination of a lower class unaware of their legal rights and a legal aid system lacking in institutional support has both obstructed access to justice for the accused and facilitated the spread of torture and other violations of fundamental human rights.
Ajeng is using her $5,000 JusticeMakers Fellowship to ensure that detainees exercise the right to legal counsel extended to them by Indonesia’s constitution. By establishing a partnership with a major detention centre in Jakarta, she will conduct a needs assessment to evaluate the actual condition of the accused, the legal problems they face, and the likelihood of successfully defending their cases. Accordingly, she will design educational tools to carry out a regular series of legal training and human rights educational sessions, and enlist a team of lawyers, law professors, paralegals and law students to conduct these events. While it is critical to inform the detainees of their rights, Ajeng also believes it is essential to motivate them to exercise these protections. Thus she has recruited psychologists to complement the panel of legal stakeholders during the sessions. She will also institutionalize legal advising skills by training a select group of convicted detainees to continue the educational sessions and assist the prison warden in providing legal services.