By 2025, Indonesia’s urban population will likely reach 220 million. While the number of urban poor is expected to increase from the current level of 50 to 70 percent by 2030, the state housing policy has yet to address the issue of the urban poor. UN special rapporteur on adequate housing Raquel Rolnik, who was in Indonesia between May 30 and June 11, talked to The Jakarta Post’s Ida Indawati Khouw on the retrogressive impact of the current development policies.
Question: Pundits and activists have criticized the country’s development policies as being unfavorable toward the poor and marginalized groups, yet the government and private entities seem deaf to the criticisms. What is their problem?
Answer: The main narrative of the government regards the urban poor [those living in informal settlements, working in the informal sector] as illegal not deserving of attention. Another narrative puts the blame on migration. [The authorities say] we should stop migration because it is impossible to provide adequate housing for the influx.
Those narratives are very discriminatory. Migrants and non-migrants are equally Indonesian. People would not migrate if there was no need to do it.
Despite the fact that nearly one in four urban residents has migrated from rural areas during their lifetime, many are still without identity cards and do not receive any public services.
Migrants are particularly vulnerable to the consequences of forced evictions. In the absence of ID cards, they are denied compensation or relocation [in many cases back to their place of origin]. Given the concentration of economic and employment opportunities in urban centers this solution is not sustainable,
Migrants are the engine of economic growth; they have transformed this country.
Discrimination is rife toward people living in places like riverbanks or railways. We have to take into consideration that nobody lives there as a matter of choice. We need to overcome the ways in which we see these problems.
It is common to see authorities turn to eviction-base development when dealing with slum improvement. Do you think this is a reflection of simple-minded officials?
No. The issue is what and who is urban development for? If you believe development should be for everyone, then you treat these issues in a different way. It is the obligation of the state to prioritize vulnerable and marginalized groups. It is time for Indonesia to come in line with human rights in this respect.
Forced evictions are a gross violation of human rights. Mass forced evictions may only be carried out under exceptional circumstances and in full accordance with international human rights law, which includes the obligation to provide full information on the purpose of the evictions; legal remedies and legal aid to those who are in need of seeking redress from courts.
A myriad of national, provincial and municipal laws and regulations allows local government to conduct evictions. Although the settlements are branded as “illegal squatting”, this term is misleading, for the derogatory term obscures the fact that the occupation took place with permission and/or tolerance from the state.
This eviction approach is a regression because the people are worse-off than before.
What about the kampung development program?
According to official estimates, 80 percent of housing development in Indonesia has been constructed through informal household based systems including self-help housing. While most houses produced by real estate corporations are targeted for speculative investments by the upper 10 percent of urban population.
I am concerned that as urban land becomes scarce and the prices skyrocket, innercity kampungs face the threat of powerful economic forces. The innercity kampung is an intrinsic part of urban history, central to the cultural and social fabric of society.
The government should service these kampungs with adequate infrastructure and public services, including redevelopment when required.
An important aspect in securing the existence of the kampung is ensuring a strong degree of security of tenure. [Spatial] planning should declare very clearly that the informal segment should be there forever and can be upgraded in accordance the right to adequate housing.
What will you say after assessing the issue of urban development here?
My report [to be presented to the Human Rights Council in March 2014] will be a kind of warning, saying: look, if we don’t address this it can become the source of conflict.
According to one study, 65 percent of administrative court cases involve land disputes, at the Law and Human Rights Ministry it is two out of three complaints and one of the top five complaints at the Ombudsman.
The coming years present a window of opportunity for Indonesia, which means either go radically in one direction and then have the problem of land conflict and housing or go in another direction toward a better future.