Indonesia is home to an estimated 50-70 million indigenous peoples, but the government does not recognize the rights of its indigenous peoples and claims that none live in Indonesia. In a response to the United Nations Periodic Review in 2012, a four–year human rights check-up for all countries, Indonesia said: “The Government of Indonesia supports the promotion and protection of indigenous people worldwide… Indonesia, however, does not recognize the application of the indigenous peoples concept…in the country.” The UN’s report recommended that Indonesia should ratify ILO Convention 169, the only international law for indigenous and tribal peoples. In addition, the UN recommended that Indonesia should secure the rights of indigenous peoples, especially to their traditional lands, territories and resources.
“The Rainforest Foundation Norway thinks President Yudhoyono would show great international leadership by ratifying the ILO 169 Convention. The President has already made a big commitment to reduce Indonesia’s green house gas emissions by 41%. We are sure that this ambitious goal would be strengthened if the President also signs ILO 169 and acknowledges the important role Indigenous Peoples play in managing forests sustainably, ” says Hege Karsti Ragnhildstveit, the head of Rainforest Foundation Norway’s Division for Southeast Asia.
ILO 169 is a convention of the International Labor Organisation, which is part of the UN. The Convention recognizes the land ownership rights of indigenous peoples, and states that they should not be forcibly evicted from their territories. ILO 169 sets a series of standards for the treatment of indigenous peoples and requires governments to consult indigenous peoples on projects that affect them. Governments that ratify the Convention are legally bound to abide by it.
A Dani woman in Indonesian Papua. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is also an important international tool, setting a benchmark by which the treatment of indigenous peoples can be judged. However, unlike ILO 169, the Declaration is not legally binding.
The incessant international demand for commodities, such as palm oil and pulp and paper, is responsible for evicting indigenous peoples off their lands and for the wholesale liquidation of Indonesia’s remaining rainforests. Indigenous peoples are not adequately consulted or compensated for the use of their traditional lands. Large-scale land acquisitions for palm oil operations are rife with social conflicts due to unresolved disputes over land tenure, resource control and environmental degradation. Forest dwelling communities are often faced with violence and intimidation. Some palm oil companies respond to land conflicts with local communities by using company security forces or hiring military units to crack down on dissenters in order to keep their palm oil operations active.
The ILO 169 is the only international law that recognizes the land ownership rights of indigenous peoples. ILO 169 is not just a law for indigenous peoples; it is a law for everyone. It plays a key role in saving the world’s natural ecosystems, putting control of the land back in the hands of the people who have looked after it for generations. Indigenous peoples are thoughtful and skillful partners of the natural world; their ways of life have protected and conserved some of the world’s most intact natural ecosystems, species and genetic diversity. Indigenous peoples’ territories cover up to 22% of the planet’s land surface, and they coincide with areas that hold 80% of the planet’s biodiversity (Sobrevila 2008). It is no coincidence that so much of the world’s rainforests and biodiversity are on indigenous peoples’ lands. Scientific studies based on satellite data have shown that indigenous territories are highly effective and vitally important for stopping deforestation and forest fires (Nelson A, Chomitz KM 2011). Using satellite data from forest fires to help indicate deforestation levels, the study showed rates were lower by about 16% in indigenous areas between 2000-2008. Its analysis shows how deforestation plummets to its lowest levels when indigenous peoples continue living in protected areas, and are not forced out.
Recently, the Indonesian Constitutional court ruled that the customary forests of indigenous peoples should not be classed as falling in “State Forest Areas.” This means that the State cannot expel indigenous peoples from their customary forests. The court ruling recognizes indigenous peoples’ land rights in the archipelago and opens the way for a major reallocation of forests back to the indigenous peoples. The judgment was made in response to a petition filed with the court by the national indigenous peoples’ organization AMAN (Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara). It is time for the President and the government of Indonesia to secure and recognize indigenous peoples’ land rights.
Tigers, orangutans, rhinos: Sumatra’s big mammals on the edge of extinction
(06/12/2013) Karman Lubis’s body was found near where he had been working on a Sumatran rubber plantation. His head was found several days later a mile away and they still haven’t found his right hand. He had been mauled by a Sumatran tiger that has been living in Batang Gadis National Park and he was one of five people killed there by tigers in the last five years.
Illegal wildlife trade flourishes in Sumatra
(06/10/2013) In a chilly rain on Sunday, in a town just a few kilometers beyond the edge of a protected Sumatran rainforest, a young orangutan sat perched on a piece of plywood and grabbed the metal wires of his tiny cage.
He has sat in that cage for six months and, like dozens of other species on display in this ‘zoo’ in the town of Kadang in Aceh, he has a price tag. This packed assembly is an acknowledged front for illegal trafficking in wildlife.
Indonesia to ban auctions of timber seized from illegal logging operations
(06/09/2013) The Indonesian government may ban the practice of auctioning seized logs as a means for cracking down on illegal logging and timber laundering.
China to build $17B worth of dams in Indonesian Borneo
(06/09/2013) Two Chinese companies — China Power Investment Corporation and Anhui Conch Cement — will invest $17 billion in dams in North Kalimantan, Indonesia’s newest province located on the island of Borneo, reports the Jakarta Globe.
Indonesian President visits Greenpeace ship 3 years after it was deported
(06/07/2013) Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono met with Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo aboard the activist group’s ship, the Rainbow Warrior, today in Jakarta to discuss Indonesia’s environmental issues. The meeting took place 31 months after the Rainbow Warrior was barred from Indonesian waters under pressure from interests in the forestry sector.
Mining in Indonesia taking a heavy social, environmental toll
(06/03/2013) In a patch of rainforest in northern Sumatra, a 28-year-old in a jeans and tall rubber boots snubs out out his cigarette and pulls a headlamp over his short black hair. Standing under a tarp, he flicks the light on and leans over the entrance of a narrow shaft lined with wooden planks that he and other miners cut from trees that once stood here. He gives a sharp tug on a rope that dangles 100 meters, plateauing in sections, and slides down. For hours, the man, Sarial, will use a pick to scrape away and bag rocks that are hauled to the surface by another miner, using a wooden wheel.
Scientists describe over 100 new beetles from New Guinea
(06/03/2013) In a single paper, a team of researchers have succinctly described 101 new species of weevils from New Guinea, more than doubling the known species in the beetle genus, Trigonopterus. Since describing new species is hugely laborious and time-intensive, the researchers turned to a new method of species description known as ‘turbo-taxonomy,’ which employs a mix of DNA-sequencing and taxonomic expertise to describe species more rapidly.
Indonesia’s first REDD project finally approved
(05/30/2013) Rimba Raya, the world’s largest REDD+ project, has finally been approved by the Indonesian government and verified under the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), a leading certification standard for carbon credits.
Indonesian official arrested for running $150m illegal logging ring
(05/30/2013) A former police officer has been arrested in Indonesia for orchestrating a $150 million illegal logging ring in Indonesian New Guinea.
Indonesia’s largest coal plant will be built despite protests, minister says
(05/26/2013) Indonesia will go ahead with construction of what is set to be its largest coal-fired power plant in Batang, Central Java next year, a senior government official has said, downplaying opposition from environmental groups and the local community. Developers have struggled to acquire the approximately 200 hectares of land needed for the planned PLTU Batang plant, which would have a 2000 megawatt (MW) capacity. Residents of five villages have protested the project, with some refusing to release their land on fears of potential environmental damage to the area. Environmental groups also oppose the plant, saying it overlaps with a marine protected area and runs counter to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions.