Assault on the Commons: Deforestation and the Denial of Rights in Indonesia

Date of publication: 
2 December 2014

Indonesia is losing its forests faster than ever. Government efforts to halt the hand out of industrial permits for logging and plantations are failing. Despite its promises to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, the country is experiencing a run-away process of forest clearance for oil palm estates and pulpwood plantations.

This new report from Forest Peoples Programme exposes the underlying cause of forest loss in Indonesia: the denial of the rights of the tens of thousands of customary law communities (‘indigenous peoples’) who inhabit the forests. Tracing this denial of rights back to the pre-colonial era, the study documents how the country’s legal and policy framework has systematically weakened forest peoples’ rights over time.

Industrial-scale forestry and cash-cropping schemes have expropriated peoples’ lands and livelihoods turning them from being self-sufficient and autonomous peoples into impoverished landless workers on the fast degrading forest frontier. Collusion between business elites and politicians and corrupt dealings between them and administrators have allowed industrial concessions to be handed out without regard for the livelihoods, welfare and knowledge of indigenous peoples and local communities. The resulting political impunity further denies communities any chance of securing remedy through the judicial system.

However, Indonesia also boasts an equally long history of resistance to exploitative and centralised State systems that deny peoples’ rights. The last thirty years have witnessed a dramatic flourishing of civil society and indigenous movements pushing for legal and policy reforms that secure rights and self-determined development. The new President, Joko Widodo, has come to power promising changes to secure community and indigenous peoples’ rights, resolve land conflicts and curb corruption.

This report therefore concludes with a series of recommendations, based on the proposals of these movements. It summarises the reforms that are urgently needed if Indonesia is to establish a fairer structure, in which the Constitutional rights of citizens and peoples to their lands and livelihoods are to be upheld and a more equitable development process secured.

DOCUMENT: Assault on the Commons (2 MB) –