Decades of advocacy open the door for implementation and recognition of Indonesia’s Indigenous Peoples
Since the fall of Suharto’s regime in 1998, the Indigenous Peoples of Indonesia have achieved significant policy and legal breakthroughs in the struggle for the recognition of their collective land rights. This struggle culminated in the May 2013 Constitutional Court Ruling, which declared that the state had wrongly appropriated customary forests and should return them to indigenous communities. Yet after 15 years of high-minded reforms at the constitutional and legislative level, Indonesia’s Indigenous Peoples remain without legal recognition, and there has been little—if any—progress on the ground recognizing indigenous lands.
From the 1970s to the late 1990s, an authoritarian regime led by President Suharto facilitates a massive exploitation of Indonesia’s forests by licensing forest lands to private and state-owned logging companies and industrial plantation companies
Resistance to President Suharto’s forest policies begins
Indonesian NGOs campaign against state forest policies and logging companies’ destructive practices, while the environmental movement in Indonesia starts to coordinate with Indigenous Peoples.
Forest bureaucracy grants timber industry concessions on Indigenous Peoples’ customary territories
The Ministry of Forestry gives licenses to timber plantation companies with the idea that over-logged areas will be reforested. However, several companies are granted licenses to develop plantations in natural forests that are still intact. Many of the concessions are on Indigenous Peoples’ lands, leading to displacement, poverty, and other social injustices for these groups.
Parliament passes Forest Law No. 41, which does not recognize Indigenous Peoples’ rights and is used to legalize the claim that customary lands belong to the state
Consultative Group issues a still unimplemented decree on tenure
People’s Consultative Assembly Decree No. IX 2001 is established, mandating the president to review agrarian and natural resource regulations and address forest and land tenure issues. Implementation of the decree has not yet taken place, due at least in part to a lack of political will.
Constitutional amendment recognizes the rights of Indigenous Peoples
After failing to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ rights for centuries, an amendment to the Indonesian Constitution recognizes the cultural identity and traditional rights of Indigenous Peoples.
New laws confer limited rights to communities
The government enacts two new laws conferring limited rights to communities (kemitraan) and to individuals, households, and village cooperatives (hutan tanaman rakyat).
“Nearly 96% of Indonesia’s forests remain under government control.”
– What Future for Reform? Rights and Resources Initiative, 2014
Presidential Instruction No. 10/2011 places a moratorium on forest concessions
In May, a new memo from the president postpones any new licenses for conversion of primary natural forests and peatland for two years. The moratoriums, which the government renews in 2013, are driven by increasing recognition of the negative impacts that concessions have on the rights of indigenous owners of forest land and the dawning recognition that any agreements negotiated between governments and concessionaires must include the indigenous owners of the land. Unfortunately, these moratoriums do not halt the infringement of rights on the ground.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono issues an instruction to the Ministries of Forestry and Home Affairs, among others, to “[t]ake the necessary steps according to the tasks, function, and authorities of each to support the suspension of new licenses/permissions for primary natural forests and peatlands.” This moratorium on new licenses is to be in effect for two years. This instruction represents an important step towards the Indonesian government’s fulfillment of its commitments under REDD, the United Nations’ initiative for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries. Yet in spite of this moratorium on further forest concessions, private and public infringement continues on Indigenous Peoples’ lands in Indonesia.
“70% of forest areas with indigenous land claims are subject to conflicting claims by communities and concessions.”
– Abdon Nababan, former Secretary General of AMAN
Indonesian Government commits to expand rights of Indigenous Peoples
During a keynote speech given at a global forestry conference in July, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, head of the Indonesian President’s Special Delivery Unit, announces the government’s intention to prioritize the needs of its forest communities. He acknowledges the need to “recognize, respect and protect adat rights,” promising to enforce the 2002 Constitutional Amendment, legislation that has been on the books for 10 years but is rarely implemented.
The historic statement follows the release of studies by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) suggesting that Indonesia’s failure to implement meaningful land rights reforms has made it an outlier among Asia’s forest nations. Over the past 20 years, several Asian countries have successfully stopped the destruction of their own forests after turning over hundreds of thousands of hectares to forest communities. The research also shows the pivotal role of insecure rights in ongoing conflict and increased carbon emissions from Indonesia’s forests.
In his closing remarks, Pak Hadi Pasaribu, a high-level official with the Ministry of Forestry says, “the policies we have now are not effective in solving the tenure problem, but at least we have committed to doing much better.” Despite optimism about the agreement, negotiators and observers at the conference note that the reform process in Indonesia confronts daunting obstacles.
“The Indonesian political scene is dominated by business interests with huge financial clout,” says Dominic Elson, an economist and researcher who authored one of the RRI studies presented at the conference. “The palm oil industry alone is worth US$20 billion a year, and this has led Indonesia to become stuck in a development model that is over-reliant on natural resources.“
Indonesian Constitutional Court sides with AMAN on Forestry Law No. 41
The Constitutional Court agrees with AMAN’s assessment and strikes the word “state” from the law, which previously read that “customary forests are state forests located in the territory of customary law communities.” It declares that customary forests are no longer part of state forests by changing the law to read: “Customary forests are forests located in the territory of Indigenous Peoples.” This revision of the law lays the legal groundwork for indigenous communities to assert their legal rights, though implementation of the ruling remains minimal.”
“About 40 million Indigenous Peoples are now the rightful owners of our customary forests.”
– Abdon Nababan, former Secretary General of AMAN
AMAN progresses in mapping ancestral territories
AMAN maps approximately 6.7 million hectares of ancestral territories with input and agreement from communities. When AMAN starts its mapping efforts in 2010, it establishes the Ancestral Domain Registration Agency to register these maps. AMAN aims to map all ancestral territories by 2020. These efforts receive significant impetus from the Indonesian Constitutional Court decision in May.
Joko Widodo wins presidency
Indonesians elect Joko Widodo for president. He is inaugurated October 20, and introduces several indigenous rights activists and friends of AMAN into his cabinet. In June 2015, President Widodo meets with representatives from AMAN to discuss their projects. His “Nawa Cita”, or Presidential candidate’s pledge, includes six main agenda points that pertain to the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Plantation guards murder local land rights activist
While traveling to a harvest festival in Jambi, Indonesia, farmer and land rights activist Indra Pelani is allegedly murdered after an argument with guards stationed outside a pulpwood plantation owned by PT Wira Karya Sakti (WKS), a subsidiary of Asia Pulp and Paper (APP). According to reports, Pelani’s body is later found tied up several kilometers away, showing evidence of stab wounds and severe beating. The seven guards suspected in the killing later surrender to police.
“This appears to be a pre-meditated, brutal murder,” says Riko Kurniawan, Executive Director of Walhi Riau, a member of a coalition of local environmental organizations in Sumatra. Pelani’s community is engaged in a decade-long conflict with WKS over the ownership of 2,000 hectares of farmland.
“We hope that justice is done this time,” Kurniawan says, “unlike 2010 and 2012 cases in which two farmers were killed under similar circumstances arising from social conflicts with APP suppliers in Jambi and Riau.”
APP pledges assistance to the investigation, saying that it required WKS to suspend all personnel allegedly involved in the incident. The murder comes on the heels of APP’s recent efforts to reverse its reputation as one of the world’s most notorious tropical deforesters. In 2013, APP issues its first zero-deforestation policy, reaffirming the commitment in 2014, when the company signed the New York Declaration on Forests, a pledge from companies, governments, and NGOs to cut deforestation in half by 2020. However, a recent evaluation of APP’s social responsibility performance in Indonesia reveals a troubling lack of progress, particularly in regards to resolving community conflicts with the company’s suppliers.
Pelani’s killing proves that promises alone are far from adequate when it comes to protecting the rights and lives of forest communities. As Mina Setra of AMAN says at a land rights conference in February: “Zero deforestation commitments have to come along with zero evictions, zero criminalizations, and zero killings. We cannot start talking about stopping deforestation while we keep killing the people who are actually doing it on the ground.”
AMAN begins partnership with the Tenure Facility
With financial and technical support from the Tenure Facility, AMAN expands its participatory mapping efforts, as well as its collaboration with government agencies and civil society organizations. AMAN and the Tenure Facility recognize that Indonesia’s current political environment, after the Constitutional Court ruling on Forestry Law No. 41 and the election of President Widodo, presents an opportunity to expand recognition of land rights. The Tenure Facility project in Indonesia amplifies AMAN’s efforts to mobilize support at the national and district levels to use the current political momentum to advance the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The partnership also supports AMAN’s community mapping project, which seeks to incorporate gender perspectives in community mapping activities, ensuring that the knowledge and management practices of women are taken into account and accurately represented.
“The Tenure Facility’s main mission is to enable Indigenous Peoples to respond to legal and political opportunities.”
– Abdon Nababan, former Secretary General of AMAN
Government releases report on human rights of Indigenous Peoples living in forests
The Indonesian National Inquiry on Human Rights releases a report on its investigation into human rights violations against Indigenous Peoples living in forest areas. The report finds that while in some cases respect for the rights of Indigenous Peoples has improved, in other areas indigenous communities continue to face violence and other human rights violations. Read more about this report here.
AMAN ignites a movement that spreads from district to district through peer-to-peer exchanges, as local authorities adopt local legislation to secure Indigenous Peoples’ land and forest rights
AMAN assists local governments in the drafting of 32 district-level regulations, and three provincial regulations, that respect the land and forest rights of Indigenous Peoples. Once passed, these regulations will lead to titles for more than 1.5 million hectares of land and forest belonging to 200 indigenous communities. AMAN’s success at scaling its mapping processes and methods provides a model for government agencies and civil society organizations looking to build on these efforts.
Government recognizes indigenous communities
With the support of the Tenure Facility, five district regulations on Indigenous Peoples are approved, involving 26 indigenous communities and leading to the recognition of 250,000 hectares. AMAN expects another two district regulations to be enacted in 2017 that will involve 52 indigenous communities and recognize an additional 68,000 hectares.
The Lebak indigenous community is the first district to use local legislation as a tool for securing indigenous land rights. Lebak faces threats from an industrial mining concession as well as a national park. The legislation, which is approved in December 2015, includes recognition of three indigenous territories covering 66,300 hectares of land. Lebak is the first district where AMAN implements new procedures to ensure that the voices of women are included in the mapping process. Local level recognition leads to official national recognition of one of the first community forests under the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. Lebak holds a dialogue for local parliament members from other districts, and becomes a source of inspiration and information for many other local legislation processes. With support from AMAN, Junaedi Ibnu Jarta, the Chairman of the Lebak Parliament, champions local rights recognition. He and other local indigenous parliament members visit and receive visits from several other districts, during which they share their experiences and facilitate high-level dialogues on local legislation processes.
AMAN trains more than 250 people
With the support of the Tenure Facility, AMAN greatly expands the reach of its efforts to train government officials, civil society members, and staff. AMAN trains 176 people in ethnographic research and participatory mapping, and 86 people—including members of local parliaments, government representatives, and AMAN staff—on legislative processes to further the recognition of indigenous communities.
AMAN expands participatory mapping of Indigenous Peoples’ lands and introduces gender-sensitive participatory mapping in more than 38 communities to ensure the meaningful participation of women
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