By Beh Lih Yi
JAKARTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Slum dwellers in Indonesia have launched a landmark legal case to challenge a decades-old law which has been used to forcibly remove thousands of families, amid a wave of evictions in the country's capital.
The case comes as authorities ramp up efforts to clear housing along a main river bank in Jakarta, the sprawling capital of 10 million people, to pave the way for an ambitious flood mitigation project.
Local residents have asked the court to declare a law enacted in 1960 as unconstitutional as it "gives the government a great authority to take the land from the people" without due consultation, court documents show.
"I see more and more people suffering like me. This is wrong, this is inhumane," said Mansur Daud who was evicted last year from a slum in west Jakarta to make way for the project.
The 54-year-old hawker launched the legal challenge with two others this week, saying they want justice to be upheld.
"There was no dialogue, no compensation. I have to live at my parents' house now, my children were traumatized by the eviction, where is the justice?" he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Friday.
The 1960 law prohibits the use of land without permission from the rightful owner, but land rights advocates argue it has long been invoked in favor of the authorities.
Lawyer Alldo Fellix Januardy said the law unfairly targets slum dwellers and the poor who cannot provide proof of land ownership, due to a legacy of unclear and overlapping land titles, as well as bureaucracy in Indonesia.
However he said this was exacerbated by the fact that the law does not require the government to provide the same proof of title when it is used to evict the residents.
"The problem with land evictions in Indonesia is that nobody has a (land ownership) certificate," said Januardy, who specializes in land rights cases and represents the slum dwellers.
"If nobody has a certificate, then the court should be the one to decide whose land it is but the government never sends cases to court, they just evict people because of this law.
"If we win the case, every forced eviction must be decided through the court before it happens," the lawyer added.
The Constitutional Court has yet to fix a date to start hearing the case.
The Jakarta city government has defended its move and vowed to push ahead with the evictions despite criticism.
Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama said the project was necessary to prevent annual floods during monsoon season and alternative housing had been provided to those affected.
According to the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute, which has been helping evicted families, there were 113 forced evictions last year, with each round typically involving many dwellings. A total of 8,145 families and 6,283 small businesses were affected in 2015, the group said.
Another 325 evictions were set to take place this year, the institute said, citing the government's planning documents.
The latest round of eviction took place on Wednesday, which saw bulldozers demolish a waterfront shanty town in Jakarta. It went without protest but past evictions have sometimes resulted in violence.
In August last year, security forces fired teargas and water cannon after they clashed with residents while clearing a flood-prone area in the capital, with 27 people arrested.
(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi, Editing by Paola Totaro; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)