Violence against Indonesia’s indigenous peoples spikes as government drags feet on land rights and forestry legislation

Violence against Indonesia’s indigenous peoples spikes as government drags feet on land rights and forestry legislation

Watchdog group reports 143 cases of arrest, expulsion and conflict in 2013 in backlash against efforts of indigenous communities to protect carbon-storing forests and peatlands from government and private sector land grabs.

 JAKARTA, INDONESIA (27 JANUARY 2013)– Locked in a fierce struggle to stave off the destruction of their customary forests and peatlands by the government and palm oil, mining and other resource-hungry industries, indigenous peoples in Indonesia faced a rash of human rights violations in 2013, according to a new analysis released at a press event on Monday. Citing the failure of the government to implement long-promised land rights and forestry policies, the head of Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), a leading Indonesian indigenous group, pointed to 143 cases of conflict, expulsion and arrests reported by its members last year, and noted that some 300 additional land rights conflicts went undocumented.

“Indonesia’s indigenous peoples and the government are at an impasse over the fate of the country’s rainforests and peatlands, the protection of which are central to global climate change reduction efforts,” said Abdon Nababan, AMAN’s secretary general at the event, which provided a review of indigenous milestones in 2013.

“Unless the government fully recognizes the right of indigenous people to manage 40 million hectares of customary forests and peatlands—something that the Constitutional Court instructed them to do more than eight months ago—this violence will persist and the forests will suffer as a result,” he said.

Indonesia is the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, mostly due to the felling of forests and the draining of peatlands by miners and palm oil and pulp and paper producers, eager to capitalize on the country’s abundant and inexpensive natural resources. Conflict flares up when the Ministry of Forestry and other national and local government agencies dole out forests to companies that indigenous communities have managed—in most cases, sustainably—for centuries.

Nababan and others at the event called on lame duck President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyon to formally implement a May 2013 Constitutional Court decision asserting that a line in the country’s 1999 Forestry Law stating that customary forests are state forest is unconstitutional. Nababan said that the Forestry Ministry, which currently manages the contested indigenous forests, is one of the main obstacles to the passage of this law.

Nababan also criticized the government’s implementation of the August 2013 Prevention and Eradication of Forest Degradation, also known as Law P3H. Nababan said the law, which is designed to help the government crackdown on illegal forest activity, led directly to the wrongful arrest of 11 indigenous peoples and the expulsion of 378 households in South Kalimantan and Bengkulu.

“They were arrested and expelled under this law for doing what they have been doing for centuries—sustainably harvesting trees in the forests for their incomes and rituals,” said Nababan. “By failing to protect the rights of indigenous people over these forests, the government has turned the protectors of Indonesia’s forests into criminals.”

The event brought together Sandra Moniaga, Commissioner of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), Noer Fauzi Rachman, Executive Director of Sajogyo Institute, Danang Widoyoko, the coordinator of Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) and Achmad Sodiki, a former Constitutional Court judge.

The event is part of a larger campaign by AMAN and others to push President Yudhoyono to strengthen the land rights of indigenous peoples before he leaves office in July 2014. The indigenous group, which launched a petition in December calling on the President to implement the Constitutional Court ruling, is also pushing Indonesia’s House of Representatives to pass the Bill on Recognition and Protection of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to further shore up their role in managing the country’s vast forest and peatland reserves.


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