COVID-19 Op-ed

Brewing Violence and Irreversible Vulnerabilities as Indonesia Passes the Omnibus Law amid Covid-19

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Selma TheofanyGraduate
Student of Social Justice Perspectives in ISS Erasmus University of

the middle of pandemic, while Covid-19 cases are still spiking and
inequalities are widening, Indonesian President Joko Widodo endorsed the
controversial and suspicious Omnibus Law on 5 October 2020. This law poses
threats to workers who have already experienced severe pay cuts and
retrenchment since the pandemic hit (Aldin, 2020). Civil society groups
and trade unions resist the approval of this new law (Karmini, 2020). The
people launched several street protests in different cities, and they turned
out to be riots. Since the beginning of its promulgation, the dynamics of
this new law is full of structural violence, and this violence is starting in
the hand of the Government.Joko Widodo’s administration has no longer symbolically,
but already practically committed some forms of structural violence. The act
of structural violence is first rooted in the abuse of power. In the state
structure that adopts a blurred type of Rosseauan trias
, both the President and the Parliament have the authority
to legislate or produce regulations, and the President can execute these
regulations further. Unfortunately, both the President and Parliament abuse
this authority by regulating a set of law that accommodates capitalists’
interests and ignores peoples’ interests. These institutions betray the
people who give them the representative power through the election so that
each of them has legislative and executive positions, as well as other forms
of authority.The Government and the Parliament have passed an oppressive law
that potentially devastates the marginal groups and the environment. This law
dangerously sets a bare minimum of civilian rights (Hamid & Hermawan,
2020). Moreover, if these institutions use the capitalist mind to interpret
this law in exploitative terms, the law can lead to human rights violations.
It regulates a worse set of standards of worker’s welfare compared to those
of the previous labor law. This law creates unfavorable working conditions
through inadequate wage formulation and exploitative working hours—the law
also broadens the opportunities to sacrifice the environment for the sake of
industrialization in the hand of the few oligarchs. People’s participation in
the production of the Environmental Impact Assessment document (EIA or AMDAL
in local abbreviation) is limited.Furthermore, the state also commits direct
violence. The Government still adheres to the obsolete concept that the state
can execute coercive power. This idea manifests in the use of state forces,
such as the police forces that equip itself with lethal weapons as its
coercive tools. The police also tend to apply the security approach since
civilian policing is not popular among the police ranks (Riyadi, 2020).
Hence, once the conflict has broken, the way the state manages conflict is
deadlocked through only coercive means.The news has also shown evidence of
police violence to peaceful protesters (BBC Indonesia, 2020). In 18
provinces, the police arrested the protesters even before the protest had
started. The police also fired tear gas when the protesters gave speech
peacefully. Moreover, they did inhuman act by beating and stripping some of
the protesters naked during the arrest. The police also blocked the
protesters’ access to legal aids.The police forces’ tendency to use weapon
should be kept in the public’s mind. During the protests, the police use
repression and iron fist to manage the protesters. While launching the
protest, the protesters defended themselves desperately in the middle of a
critical situation. The protesters had already brought grievances over the
new law that violates their rights, and they have faced another violent
action from the police that led to their double frustration. The protesters’
acts as a response to the state’s action. They did not initiate the
violence.The intertwine of structural and direct violence is present in
asymmetrical power relations. The state holds a greater control in the rise
and management of conflict. The protest and peoples’ grievances would not
emerge if the state did not pass this problematic law. The protests would not
be a riot, if the policing is done peacefully and within the bounds of the
law.  At the height of COVID-19, the Government’s commitment to using
violence had resulted to the exacerbation of not just violence, but also
inequalities. The Omnibus Law is not an answer to the dire situation of
Indonesian people. Moreover, it does not deserve a Government that resorts to
abuse and oppression.


I. U., 2020. Available at:
Indonesia, 2020. BBC News Indonesia. Available at:,
U. & Hermawan, A., 2020. New Mandala. Available
N., 2020. The Diplomat. Available at:
E., 2020. The Conversation. Available at:

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