Indonesia's International Treaty Obligations

Down to Earth No.82, September 2009

Indonesia's policy and practice in relation to sustainable development, climate change and human rights is to a significant extent governed by its obligations under international treaties and other international instruments.

DTE will shortly publish a compilation of selected instruments applicable to Indonesia as a guide for civil society organisations and others working on these issues. In the following article, we set out some of the background information.

A treaty is a written agreement between States that is legally binding and governed by international law. It may be called by other names, such as convention or covenant, and is distinguished from an agreement that is not legally binding but may represent a broad consensus of opinion within the international community. The supreme human rights instrument, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for example, is not legally binding, but is nevertheless a standard-setting manifesto with the highest moral authority. The same applies to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.


Climate change and sustainable development

The best known instruments on climate change are the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The Climate Change Convention establishes an overall framework for intergovernmental efforts to tackle climate change while the Kyoto Protocol sets binding targets for the reduction of greenhouse gases worldwide. The current implementation period covered by the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012. Further measures will be agreed at the forthcoming Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009.

Other key instruments on sustainable development and climate change include the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Vienna Convention for Protection of the Ozone Layer and the Declaration on the Right to Development.


Human rights instruments

An International Bill of Rights, comprising the primary UN human rights instruments - The Universal Declaration of Human Rights ('the Universal Declaration'), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ('the ECOSOC Covenant'), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (' the ICCPR') and the Optional Protocol to the ICCPR - exists to define and guarantee the protection of human rights. The ECOSOC Covenant and the ICCPR contain binding commitments based on the principles set out in the Universal Declaration.

Work on formulating the Bill of Rights began immediately after the Second World War, but wasn't completed until nearly two decades later when, in December 1966, the UN General Assembly voted to adopt and open for signature the ECOSOC Covenant, the ICCPR and the Optional Protocol. The General Assembly had previously adopted the Universal Declaration in December 1948.

International treaties or agreements are not only multilateral. They can also take the form of bilateral agreements between two states or agreements open to only a few States, such as the ASEAN Charter.

While many international instruments set important standards for States to follow, others are of questionable effectiveness because of the political compromises made to achieve agreement. The recently-agreed terms of reference for an ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, for example, have been strongly criticised by Amnesty International and other human rights groups for failing to give sufficient emphasis to the protection of human rights and their emphasis on consensus and the regional principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states.

An international treaty has to go through a number of stages before it can be enforced in a particular country. After a text is agreed and adopted, the instrument is opened for signature and normally enters into force after a sufficient number of States have signed or ratified it. The instrument becomes enforceable in a particular country after it has been ratified or adopted by the necessary authority in that country.

Indonesia's Act No.24 of 2000 on International Treaties regulates the making and ratification of treaties. It provides that certain treaties (such as those relating to national security, human rights and the environment) have to be ratified by an Act of Parliament while others can be ratified by Presidential Decree.


Disputes and compliance

Disputes arising from a State's failure to live up to its obligations under a treaty can be settled by negotiations between the parties, by mechanisms established by the treaty itself, or by referring the dispute to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

The International Court option applies only to States that have accepted the jurisdiction of the Court; Indonesia has not done so in general, but could choose at any time to submit to the Court's jurisdiction in relation to any specific dispute.

State compliance with the main international human rights instruments is monitored by UN-based supervisory committees, such as the Human Rights Committee and Committee Against Torture. An Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights establishes a mechanism for complaints by individual victims of abuse, but Indonesia has not yet ratified the Protocol.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which supervises the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), has for example expressed concerns about the impact on indigenous rights of plans to establish oil palm plantations along the Indonesia-Malaysia border in Kalimantan1 and has criticised draft regulations on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) for being incompatible with indigenous rights. This followed submissions to the Committee by a number of NGOs, including AMAN and Sawit Watch.2


Useful websites


1 CERD/C/IDN/CO/3, 15 August 2007, para 17 at
2 CERD letter to the Indonesian Government, 13 March 2009, at See also DTE 80/81.