Washington International Law Journal


Timothy Lindsey


In Indonesia, diverse interests in land recognised by dozens, maybe hundreds, of different adat (traditional customary legal systems) coexist with a Dutch-derived system of land title. The most problematic adat interest is traditional communal title, or hak ulayat. Indonesia's New Order government sees adat rights—and hak ulayat in particular—as incompatible with the demands of economic development. Although some adat rights are recognised in the key statute regulating interests in land, the Basic Agrarian Law, the New Order government has systematically subverted the standing of adat. Likewise, the land registration system has become a corrupt failure, with the consequence that only around ten percent of all rural land is registered. Generally speaking, adat title is vulnerable to arbitrary confiscation by the state and land disputes have become highly politicised. While the Land Administration Project, funded by foreign donors, aims to encourage increased registration and protect adat landholders, it does not take into account the reality of political exploitation of traditional rights in Indonesia. There is a real danger that it will compound the problems of these landholders and hasten the demise of traditional land laws that are well suited to a plural society with diverse traditional communities.

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