Indonesia: Indigenous people ask for govt apology

Date of publication: 
15 June 2013

Jakarta – A group of indigenous people said the government should apologize for neglecting their rights following the Constitutional Court ruling last month that annulled the government’s ownership of the nation’s customary forests.

The court decided to scrap the word “state” from Article 1 of the 1999 Forestry Law, which says “customary forests are state forests located in the areas of custom-based communities”.

The decision was made under the consideration that classifying customary forests as state forests led to the government denying indigenous people of their rights.

Indigenous People’s Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) deputy secretary-general Arifin Saleh said in Jakarta on Thursday that the alliance was calling on the President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to make a formal apology. “The court’s decision has fueled our optimism that we can still have hope in the government. But, we want them to apologize, as the court explicitly said the government was in the wrong,” he added.

Arifin claimed indigenous people had often been accused of committing illegal activities on their own land and then unjustly prosecuted.

An indigenous leader in Sumbawa, West Nusa Tenggara (NTB), and another man in Musi Banyuasin, South Sumatra, were sent to jail last year for illegal farming in protected forest areas, he said.

According to the National Commission on Human Rights’ (Komnas HAM) deputy chairwoman, Sandrawati Moniaga, most of the violence against indigenous people last year was perpetrated by police officers and corporations due to land conflicts.

Sandrawati said that many indigenous people had been forcibly displaced from their land, so that their demand for the government to apologize was justifiable.

“They surely have a right to their land as stipulated in the law and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Indonesia has ratified. However, the facts in the field tell a different story, where they are still subjected to violence from state officials,” she added.

In addition to an apology from the government, the alliance and experts are demanding that the government immediately follow up the court’s decision by issuing a presidential decree to stipulate which ministries had oversight and to provide clear guidance for the people.

A researcher with the Epistema Institute, Yance Arizona, said the government needed to accelerate the identification of customary forests across the country as existing data was obscure.

“Indigenous people can’t do it alone; they need guidance to map their own land and to speed up the process,” he said.