Indonesia: Indigenous Peoples Urge Implementation of Constitutional Court Ruling and Adoption of Indigenous Peoples Law

Date of publication: 
17 March 2014

More than one thousand indigenous peoples and allies gathered in the city centre of Jakarta, while thousands of others gathered in provinces, districts and communities across Indonesia, to urge the government to implement a landmark Constitutional Court Ruling (Ruling No 35/2012) delivered last May and the National Parliament to adopt an Indigenous Peoples Law.

Ruling No 35/2012 found in favour of three joint petitioners, Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN)), and two indigenous community representatives, deleting the word “state” in the phrase, “state customary forest.” This potentially paves the way to secure land tenure for indigenous communities, with implications for up to 12 per cent of national territory, and up to 70 million indigenous peoples across Indonesia.

The verdict hits at the core of Indonesia’s natural resource management institutions, particularly the Ministry of Forestry. Following the fall of the authoritarian Suharto regime in 1998, Indonesia has struggled to move towards more equitable economic growth and push forward democratic reforms.

In a country where forests are defined administratively, rather than ecologically, the Ministry of Forestry—a holdover from the Suharto era—remains directly responsible for 75 per cent of national territory overall. This increases to 90 per cent in eastern Indonesia, which continues to lag significantly behind in development indicators. The Ministry generates significant revenue from providing concessions for large-scale plantations and logging, in a country whose forests are among the most valuable in the world.

Properly implemented, Ruling 35/2012 has the potential to correct the legacy of massive deforestation, land loss and eviction of indigenous peoples from their lands. Clear, accessible processes for indigenous land ownership can potentially be the first step towards reducing agrarian conflict between communities and corporations. Delegating authority outside of the Ministry of Forestry for implementation may prove an opportunity for Indonesia’s newer, more reform minded institutions.

In fact Indonesian history shows that the adoption of the Basic Forestry Law in 1967 followed by the establishment of the Ministry of Forestry has resulted in severe deforestation, land loss, conflicts, eviction and even killing of many indigenous leaders across Indonesia.

Indigenous Peoples are hopeful for the existence of A Draft Indigenous Peoples Law currently being finalised by the Parliament. The Law if adopted will be a major step toward recognition and protection of Constitutional Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Indonesia. A Law that will open the window of opportunity for a reconciliation of Indigenous Peoples and The Indonesian State, a process that will end decades of discrimination, uncertainty and conflicts that in the end will ensure the benefit to all Indonesian – a step towards a better Indonesia. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Forestry, that has been assigned by the President in April 2013 to coordinate all four ministries working with the National Parliament to finalised the Draft law for adoption – does not show any promising progress. In fact many argue that the Ministry of Forestry deliberately delays the process.

No longer does Indonesia require institutions that do not serve this aim, that rely on patronage rather than justice, equality, representativeness, and service. Indonesia’s wealth—whether in people, land, forests, or oceans—is not to be squandered and exploited, but to be protected and nurtured, so that we may all benefit and prosper together.

All Indonesians must know and so does the Government must realise that the Ministry of Forestry is the centre of all land and resources-related problems in Indonesia, needless to say massive corruption cases currently investigated by the Indonesian Anti Corruption Commission. It is very clear that the Ministry is useless and Indonesia does not need such an institution. All understand that any institution that serves only the few rich at the expense of indigenous peoples has to be shut down. The government has to make Ministry of Forestry history. This is the major homework for the new Government to be born soon after the Presidential Election on 9 July this year.


Indonesia: Demands of implementation of MK35 and indigenous rights bill on the Awakening Day of Indigenous Peoples

18 March 2014

Jakarta – “We rise united for sovereignty, independence and dignity!” These were the words of indigenous peoples yesterday as they gathered at Bundaran Hotel Indonesia (HI) to mark the national Awakening of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago day and the establishment of the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara – AMAN) fifteen years ago on 17 March 1999 at Hotel Indonesia, Jakarta.

“For 15 years we have stood together … this year we celebrate, with wisdom, in indigenous villages, in customary homes, on our indigenous lands and in AMAN chapters scattered throughout the archipelago,” said AMAN Secretary General Abdon Nababan.

About 1,000 indigenous peoples from as far west of Indonesia as North Sumatera and as far east as Papua took part in the commemorations which saw a long march from Bundaran HI to the Presidential Palace and then a rally at the gates the Ministry of Forestry.

Indigenous peoples took this opportunity to demand the parliament to immediately pass the bill on the Recognition and Protection of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“In 2006 at Taman Mini Indonesia, as the President elected by the people of Indonesia, including indigenous peoples, he [President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono] promised that there must be a law protecting indigenous peoples. But this promise has not been fulfilled,’ said Rukka Sombolinggi, Deputy Secretary General of Advocacy, Law and Politics, addressing the crowd in front of the Presidential Palace yesterday.

Indigenous peoples are also calling for governments to implement the Constitutional Court’s decision on customary forests (MK 35). In May last year, the Constitutional Court historically declared that customary forests are no longer state forests, effectively opening the door for stewardship of these forests to return to indigenous peoples.

For indigenous peoples, the Ministry of Forestry remains as the source of many conflicts related to land and natural resources. Following the Constitutional Court decision, the ministry issued a circular to local and provincial government heads reminding them that authority over forests remains with the ministry.

As the ministry responsible for issuing concessions to companies for logging, mining and plantation in Indonesian forests, indigenous communities have been dispossessed of their natural resources, seen their customary forests damaged or destroyed and themselves criminalised for entering customary forests.

“The Constitutional Court’s decision makes clear that customary forests are excluded from classification as state forests,” said Deff Tri, head of the AMAN Bengkulu chapter. “But the slow response from the government and the President has led to four people from the indigenous community of Semende Banding Agung being arrested, imprisoned and facing criminal charges.”

The Ministry of Forestry was also appointed last year by the President as the coordinating ministry for the discussions between ministries and the House of Representatives Special Committee on the Bill for the Recognition and Protection of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It is suspected that the Ministry has been deliberately working to delay progress on the bill.

Indigenous peoples will continue to rally tomorrow at the National Land Agency (Badan Pertanahan Nasional) to call for the expediting of the registration of customary (indigenous) domains and at the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) to push for investigations into violations of human rights of indigenous peoples.