COVID-19 Op-ed

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

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

In 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 politica, 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.


Aldin, I. U., 2020. Available at: Indonesia, 2020. BBC News Indonesia. Available at:, U. & Hermawan, A., 2020. New Mandala. Available at:,of%20a%20human%20rights%20crisis.&text=The%20omnibus%20law%20on%20job,into%20the%20pandemic%2Dinduced%20recession..Karmini, N., 2020. The Diplomat. Available at:, E., 2020. The Conversation. Available at:

About the author