Mining, plantation firms reported for rights abuses

Date of publication: 
12 December 2012

Mining and plantation companies are among the actors that should be held responsible for numerous human rights abuses in the country, according to a National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) report.

On Tuesday, the rights commission revealed that companies ranked second — trailing behind the National Police — in its list of institutions reported for human rights violations.

Komnas HAM chairman Otto Nur Abdullah said that the commission had received 5,442 reports of human rights abuses between January and November, with 1,009 of them allegedly committed by companies.

The National Police topped the list with 1,635 reported cases of human rights violations.

Last year, Komnas HAM received 1,068 reports implicating companies throughout 2011. As many as 354 cases dealt with land disputes, while 338 others related to employment issues.

“The figures show that companies are among nongovernmental actors, besides mass organizations, that have the potential to be human rights offenders,” Otto said during a press conference at Komnas HAM headquarters in Central Jakarta.

Human rights cases related to the private sector primarily involved land disputes with 399 cases reported, followed by employment disputes with 276 cases.

Komnas HAM commissioner Natalius Pigai added that a majority of land disputes implicated plantation companies, particularly palm oil firms in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi.

“The reports are dominated by land seizure for oil palm plantations operated by private companies. But, we also found land dispute reports implicating state-owned firm PT Perkebunan Nusantara [PTPN],” he told The Jakarta Post, adding that the remaining cases involved mining companies.

Zainal Abidin, an activist with the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam), said that land disputes remained a major human rights issue in Indonesia due to a lack of commitment from the central government as well as local administrations.

“The problem is rooted in the land permit issuance process from the New Order era. The government, through the National Land Agency [BPN], has not provided breakthroughs to address this,” Zainal said in a telephone interview.

He added that the BPN, under the leadership of Hendarman Supandji, did not give sufficient assistance to settle the cases.

“Most local leaders fail to solve the matter because they consider the importance of the companies’ investments for their regions. For some, it is a matter of enriching themselves,” he said.

Zainal suggested that the government form a commission for agricultural land disputes to provide careful and fair decisions on such matters.

Aside from plantation and mining firms, Komnas HAM received 276 reports on employment disputes that mostly implicated manufacturing companies in Greater Jakarta and East Java.

Natalius said that reports indicated some companies had banned or tried to dissolve labor unions.

“Some companies try to weaken labor unions by forming a new labor union. They persuade workers to move out from the labor unions that demand better working environments or wages,” he said.

He said that Komnas HAM participated in the resolution of human rights abuses by sending warning letters to the companies.

“Most of them responded to our letters and tried to solve the matters,” he said, adding that the commission was developing a better system to address such problems.

In its report, Komnas HAM concluded that the protection of human rights in Indonesia had stagnated. The 5,422 reports filed this year were a significant rise from the 4,502 reports received in 2011.