Inside CILC: Why and where it all began – stories from the ‘founding fathers’ (1/3)

“After all, for us this legal cooperation has not been a mere project but rather a lifelong commitment: 30 or 40 years down the line it has remained part of our life. It is really something long-term. Perhaps enough to fill a lifetime or two.”

In this article, Jan van Olden and Jan Michiel Otto, the ‘founding fathers’ of CILC will shed some light on the very beginning of the organisation, which was set up in May 1985 as ‘The Netherlands Council for Legal Cooperation with Indonesia’. Through this uniquely comprehensive academic, legislative, governmental, and judicial cooperation, many hundreds of Indonesian lawmakers, judges, public prosecutors, staff of legal government departments and law schools were given the opportunity to expand and deepen their knowledge and skills through training and study at home and in the Netherlands. The founding fathers share stories about the transformation of this Council into CILC, as we know it today. 

Interview by Marjolein C. Groot, 18 June 2015

Those early days


In 1984, Jan Michiel Otto travelled for six weeks through Indonesia, where he visited numerous legal institutions and law schools, aspiring to find out how the Indonesian legal system was working and being studied. The newly appointed director of the Dutch Research Centre for the Law of South-East Asia and the Caribbean (NORZOAC), today the Van Vollenhoven Institute for Law, Governance and Development (VVI) in Leiden, also wanted to assess how legal cooperation between Indonesia and the Netherlands could be improved and perhaps expanded. Otto: “It turned out that Indonesia was interested in a much more intensive and comprehensive type of cooperation than the existing one.” The country not only requested legal academic cooperation, but was also interested in receiving advice in the field of drafting legislation, the training of judges, improving the entire legal information infrastructure, such as legal journals, etc. “I felt it was time for a big plan” Otto recalls.

The idea to establish a comprehensive legal cooperation programme between Indonesia and the Netherlands – and the reason for Otto’s expedition – coincided with an initiative of the Dutch Ambassador to Indonesia, Lodewijk van Gorkom, and the former cultural attaché of the Indonesian Embassy in The Hague at the time, Dr Koesnadi Hardjasoemantri. Both had received strong signals that there was a need for more legal cooperation, as the old generation of Indonesian jurists who could speak Dutch was fading away.

Part 1 - colonial times

Not new, but different


Not that since decolonisation there had not been any legal cooperation with Indonesia: during colonial times, there had been an intensive interchange of legal professionals and expertise between the two countries and academics from Indonesia’s law schools continued to travel to the Netherlands to study and seek advice. Since 1968, in the wake of Queen Juliana’s successful visit to Indonesia, there even existed a foundation for academic legal cooperation in Leiden, the Stichting Rechtswetenschappelijke Samenwerking Nederland-Indonesië: each year six Indonesian PhD researchers travelled to the Netherlands to carry out library research under supervision of Dutch law professors. The board of this foundation was chaired by the Indonesian Ambassador in The Hague. Active board members included Prof. Mr W.M. Leyn and Dr J.A. Zevenbergen, both of Leiden’s Law School, and Dr Koesnadi, mentioned above. The six PhD scholarships were funded by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW). The foundation’s establishment had marked a period of positive relations between Indonesia and its former coloniser, after having been under pressure for decades. During the Queen’s 1966 visit, the Indonesian government had hinted that it wanted to address one of its inheritances from Dutch colonial rule, i.e. the legal system.

However, the existing foundation did not prove sufficient for the expressed needs of a broadened and effective legal cooperation with Indonesia and it lacked organising power. Otto, as director of NORZOAC, where one day per week Dr Zevenbergen held office on behalf of his foundation, became aware of the situation as the Indonesian PhD scholars vented their complaints about perceived shortcomings of the programme.

Part 1 - JvO Leiden smallOtto discussed this experience and the findings of his journey with the Dutch Embassy in Jakarta and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Shortly after his return to the Netherlands, he met Jan van Olden, head of the policy department of NUFFIC, the Dutch organisation for international cooperation in higher education in The Hague. Van Olden had worked and lived several years in Indonesia and had been appointed by NUFFIC, at the request of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to help establish a framework for legal cooperation.

Otto: “Our Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Van Olden and myself that they were ready to fund an expanded cooperation. If we could set up a strong organisation, they anticipated the new legal cooperation projects with Indonesia to ‘go like hot cakes’.”

Otto: “Van Olden was an experienced project manager in Indonesia. He had been through several political changes in the country and knew exactly how to establish and carry out programmes there, spoke Bahasa fluently and had plenty of contacts in Indonesia and within the academic world. In 1983, I had begun working for the NORZOAC, an institute with over 15.000 books about the Indonesian legal system, that were not put to much use. I was tasked by the Leiden Law School with making this institute a success and I felt that a renewed type of cooperation with Indonesia might work. If the Netherlands were to assist Indonesia again in improving its legal system, it would be crucial for us to possess inside knowledge about its functioning, which would require academic research, not only by Indonesians but also from our side.”

Van Olden and Otto became members of a ‘core group’ for the new organisation. It included Prof. J.M. van Dunné (Erasmus University Rotterdam), born in Jakarta and whose father used to be a judge in colonial Indonesia; Prof. A.W. Koers (Utrecht University), who also had links with Indonesia, Mr R. Cleton (Ministry of Justice) and, finally, Dr Zevenbergen as the representative from the existing foundation. This core group was, in fact, the executive body of a broader ‘steering  board’ which, in close consultation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, had been established to represent – and unite for the purpose of this cooperation – the entire legal community in the Netherlands, including law schools of all Dutch universities, representatives from the different legal professions and the relevant ministries: Justice, Education and Foreign Affairs. Within a year, a plan for the new legal cooperation initiative with Indonesia had been developed. The manner in which the legal cooperation was set up, organised and country-wide, as Van Olden and Otto underline, was something new at the time.

15 million Dutch guilders for legal cooperation with Indonesia


Van Olden: “During an entire year, the core group held half day meetings almost every other week, in order to set up the legal cooperation framework. We made sure that everything and everyone relevant to the new programmes, academics as well as practitioners on both sides, were included and that all relevant institutions were represented in the steering board.” Otto: “Including the already existing foundation, whose representative was sometimes very sceptical about our plans. He would say, for example, that he had already sent many books to Indonesian law libraries, which had often not reached their intended destinations.” Smiling: “We were young dogs, perhaps sometimes reinventing the wheel, but convinced that we could do a better job in this field.” Van Olden: “Which was exactly the case.” On 1 May 1985, a new foundation ‘The Netherlands Council for Legal Cooperation with Indonesia’ was founded.

Part 1 - Council logoVan Olden: “After agreeing on the foundation’s plan for legal cooperation with Indonesia, the Dutch Minister of Development Cooperation at the time, Ms Eegje Schoo, granted the foundation 15 million Dutch guilders* over a period of five years.” This involved the organisation of the cooperation in both the Netherlands and Indonesia, divided over three programmes with annual budgets of one million guilders each: legislation, judiciary and academic. The academic programme consisted of assistance in six legal fields: criminal law, civil and commercial law, constitutional and administrative law, public international law, socio-legal studies, and finally legal history given the common legal past of the two countries.

*Editor’s note: approximately 7 million Euro

A time of opportunities


Otto reflects: “It was a remarkable period. To me, it’s very interesting to realise that, at that time, it was still possible to have all the Dutch organisations active in this field together around the table, coordinated by the Dutch State, which provided us with sufficient funding without imposing many restrictions on our strategic choices.” Van Olden: “All that was requested was to make a decent, thorough plan and to organise the legal cooperation well.” Otto: “Today, the wind blows in a totally different direction, meaning that this type of cooperation would only be possible in our dreams. Perhaps 20 or 30 years from now something similar will be possible again.” In his view, people are less susceptible to collaboration these days because they have to compete in their bids for tenders. “Today people seem too busy to involve themselves deeply in such a project and think it through entirely. Also at universities people are not necessarily willing to invest that much work and time in these types of cooperation.”

Part 1 - JMO1The Council became a vehicle to gather and build knowledge on the functioning of Indonesia’s current law system – in part working from Leiden and in part jointly with Indonesia. This knowledge would be used as input for the foundation’s policies and plans. Otto: “The members of our board were all affiliated with the academic world or the Dutch government. Jan van Olden was selected as the Council’s full-time secretary. Hugo Scheltema, a retired Dutch Ambassador to Indonesia who had organised Queen Juliana’s 1966 visit, became the first chairman.” Having in mind that in the Netherlands it had been possible to have the entire legal community brought together and represented in its board, the Council had hoped to find an independent chairman on the Indonesian side as well. That did not work out as expected. Otto: “From Indonesia we received several visitors, all informing us that they were ‘the chairman from the Indonesian side’.” Therefore, it was decided that each of the three legal cooperation programmes would have its own Indonesian counterpart, with a Dutch liaison officer based in Indonesia to engage all counterparts in the cooperation.

Leiden years



The Council took residence in Leiden, despite the fact that NUFFIC had preferred it to be based in The Hague. Otto: “The board of Leiden University showed great interest in this cooperation. The university already was a national and international centre of Indonesia, and the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV) in Leiden possessed the largest library about Indonesia in Europe, which attracted many international visitors. The library of the Institute I was leading, the NORZOAC, was at the time without any doubt also the best law library about Indonesia in Europe, if not in the entire world, including Indonesia.” The decision about the location was not difficult after Leiden offered to house the Council free of charge. The new foundation, with only a few employees, received several rooms in the attic of an old building at Noordeinde 50 in Leiden, where NORZOAC had its office. After a few years, NORZOAC and the Council moved to a prestigious building at Rapenburg 33. 

901 Rapenburg 31 - 33 large

Rapenburg 33, Leiden

The NORZOAC library with its legal sources and its large reading table became a meeting point for different people engaged in legal cooperation: judges preparing study assignments, participants of legal drafting courses, and academics in search of materials for their PhD study. It was an ideal setting for permanent informal interaction between academics and practitioners, Indonesian and Dutch.

Otto: “It always smelled of kretek – clove flavoured tobacco popular in Indonesia – in there. Our two librarians made sure the Indonesians received all the literature that might be relevant for their studies. Meanwhile, the entire library was gradually being photocopied. We sometimes referred to these people as ‘orang Xerox’ (Xerox people).” Van Olden recalls: “That often created problems at the airport. They had photocopied so many books that all of them had excessive luggage. And who had to pay for that?”

Van Olden: “The relocation of the Council’s successor CILC to The Hague later on was done with a clear purpose: to be closer to the government, to the heart of politics and to potential donors and assignments. It became removed from the in-depth knowledge base at Leiden. The operational scope of CILC had become much broader and it also had developed many relationships with other institutes.”


On to the second part of this interview…

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