The Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) was formed on August 14, 1993 by a number of civil society activists representing various elements, issues and interest groups. They are Abdul Hakim Garuda Nusantara (Director of YLBHI), Asmara Nababan (JKLPK), Hadimulyo (LSAF), Sandra Moniaga (Walhi), and Agustinus Rumansara (Secretary of INFID). The formation of ELSAM cannot be separated from the socio-political situation at that time, the time when the New Order was actively carrying out development without paying attention to the rights of the affected people. This has encouraged activists, including the founders of ELSAM, to work directly with victims of the development.
ELSAM has a vision to realize Indonesia as a society and a country that is democratic and just and upholds human rights. Meanwhile, its mission is to become a non-governmental organization that fights for human rights, including civil-political rights, economic, social and cultural rights. With this vision and mission, ELSAM aims to create a society that upholds the values of human rights, justice and democracy, both contained in laws and regulations, as well as in its implementation and institutionalization.
From that foothold, ELSAM moves to develop itself, conducts many studies, produces various knowledge. All of them are used as the basis for ELSAM's advocacy, both in policy channels and in the courts. In its journey, political conditions have brought ELSAM to do more to develop various variants of activity strategies. Starting from advocating for the vanguard, dealing directly with the state, to carrying out humanitarian functions, assisting victims—especially victims of human rights violations in the past. At the same time ELSAM is also the initiator as well as driving the birth of various legislation to support the human rights protection system. Almost all policies that were born during the transition period, ELSAM was involved in concocting them. Starting from the Ratification of the Anti-Torture Convention, the Human Rights Law, the Human Rights Court Law, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Law, to the Witness and Victim Protection Law, as well as the establishment of the Witness and Victim Protection Agency (LPSK).
Furthermore, changes in political and power structures have given color to the model of organizing and human rights advocacy work carried out by ELSAM from time to time. This periodic transformation makes it possible to participate in exploring the extent of ELSAM's position in the human rights movement and its critical contribution in developing human rights discourse in Indonesia. The various approaches and advocacy strategies used have, at least, provided space for institutions to develop various methods of involvement in encouraging policy changes and advocating for victims: starting from knowledge production, a series of policy advocacy processes, strategic litigation in courts, multiplication of civil society networks and institutions, to strategic partnerships with various stakeholders, including education for network capacity building.
In its actual development, important issues that mark changes in the way of advocacy and studies conducted by ELSAM, for example, can be seen in issues of technology and human rights, business and human rights and transitional justice—which are also the trademark of this institution. Policy advocacy related to the use of digital technology, as one example, is the new face of ELSAM in order to ensure the improvement of the situation of freedom of expression as well as the protection of the right to privacy in Indonesia. ELSAM has also begun to realize the importance of the involvement of non-state actors, especially corporations in the human rights enforcement ecosystem. Therefore, in its development ELSAM even involves the business sector in compiling a human rights commitment for corporations. This is an important foothold in efforts to apply various human rights principles in corporate operations, which in the future are expected to become binding instruments for their - corporation's work.
Institutionally, for the first time ELSAM was established as a Foundation, with Hadimulyo as chairman, Asmara Nababan as secretary, and Agustinus Rumansara, Abdul Hakim Garuda Nusantara, and Sandra Moniaga as members. Furthermore, in the early 2000s there was a change in the institutional form of ELSAM from what was originally a foundation to a limited association, until now. The ELSAM Implementing Body was for the first time led by Abdul Hakim Garuda Nusantara (1993-2002), then Ifdhal Kasim (2002-2005), Agung Putri Astrid Kartika (2006-2010), Indriaswati D. Saptaningrum (2010-2015), and Wahyu Wagiman (2016-2020).