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Indonesia: The Criminal Justice System
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > The Criminal Justice System


The nation's criminal jurisprudence and its institutions of criminal justice derive from Indonesia's experience as an independent state, from the European tradition, and from the Dutch colonial period. The criminal law is one of three systems of law in operation in the nation since the nineteenth century, the other two being a system of European-derived commercial codes and a civil law based on customary law (adat), which included Islamic law. The criminal law is the only one of these three systems that was essentially codified and applied uniformly throughout the national territory. Criminal justice was administered through a system that included a hierarchy of trial and appellate courts, a prosecutory arm of the national government, and an independent bar.

Several factors limited the actual use of these formal legal channels in dealing with activity defined as criminal. Owing in large part to a general shortage of trained legal personnel, the infrastructure of the criminal justice system was more extensive in urban locales and on Java than in rural or remote areas. In any case, its procedures often did not apply to military, security, and intelligence organizations, which in practice sometimes dealt with both political and ordinary crime. Moreover, Indonesians did not always resort to the formal legal system to resolve their conflicts because many did not share Western views regarding the nature of individual rights and the efficacy of law and procedural justice, but rather preferred to settle disputes by arbitration or accommodation. Retribution and revenge, however, were still popular ways of settling disputes in the early 1990s, especially away from the big cities and towns.

In rural areas, many conflicts, including some (mostly minor) criminal cases, continued to be settled by village chiefs. Even in towns and cities, complaints were not often filed with authorities, and cases were frequently settled out of court in order to save time and money or to avoid attracting public or official attention. In criminal cases, such settlements typically entailed accommodation between the accused and the police or prosecutors, whose roles in the criminal justice system were generally more critical than those of courts or judges. Wealth and status were apt to be important factors in the outcome.

Data as of November 1992

Last Updated: November 1992

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Indonesia was first published in 1993. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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