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Indonesian Court Voids Key Human Rights Law

Indonesia's Constitutional Court has annulled the country's Truth and Reconciliation law, saying it has no legal basis. As Chad Bouchard reports from Jakarta, the surprise decision throws the future of many laws into question, and challenges investigations into past human rights violations.

The law the Indonesian Constitutional Court threw out on Thursday would have established a special Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate human rights violations going back more than 40 years.

The law was intended to bring to justice those responsible for abuses under Indonesia's former dictator, Suharto, and those responsible for the massacre of half a million suspected communists in 1965.

The proposed Truth and Reconciliation Commission has long been opposed by some conservative Muslim groups and high-ranking military officials, who fear they might be implicated in abuses.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's spokesman, Andi Mallarengeng, says the government must now look for ways to ensure that the spirit of the law is preserved.

"I think the spirit of the law itself was meant by the parliament to bring justice, to bring truth to come forward, and to get over with some dark parts of our history," he said. "But unfortunately, yesterday's ruling canceled the law. And so we are now studying the consequences and the implications."

He said Thursday's court decision is final, with no chance for appeal.

Critics and human rights activists had challenged three provisions of the legislation, saying the law was too vague and opened too many doors for those with blood on their hands to secure amnesty.

Instead of focusing on just those provisions, the panel of judges threw out the whole law.

Patra M. Zen is chairman of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation, one of the groups that had sought a review. He says the decision has widespread implications for human rights laws, including key laws governing Indonesia's Aceh and Papua provinces, where the military is accused of brutality in putting down separatist violence.

"There is two laws at least," he said. " Law regarding Aceh - special autonomy in Aceh - and law regarding special autonomy in Papua. You know, there's many laws also depend on that law. So now there is a vacuum of law, yeah?"

Zen says the decision sets Indonesia's human rights work back several years. He says the country's parliament must now review and rewrite dozens of related laws, which will cost money and time.

Human rights activists are planning to meet with Indonesia's Justice and Human Rights Department next week to discuss the implications of the ruling.