AMAN requests amendments granting more comprehensive rights protections
Approaching final legalization, an advocacy group for Indonesia’s indigenous communities has asked to postpone passing a bill granting protections to indigenous people, stating some demands still need to be addressed.
The Law on Recognition and Protection of the Rights of Indigenous People was first introduced by the Indigenous People Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) back in 2010. Its objective was to acknowledge indigenous people’s rights, such as rights to customary land, rights of customary law, and rights concerning customary culture.
Customary homes burned by authorities a joint operation Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in Bengkulu. Conflict between communities, national parks, and companies remains a common problem in Indonesia. Photo by AMAN Bengkulu.
Indigenous peoples in Indonesia number 60-70 million of the total population of 250 million. However, AMAN argued their existence was denied by Indonesian law, particularly the 1999 Law on Forestry, which they claim does not recognize indigenous people’s rights and traditions. After two years with little progress, the House of Parliament took over the bill with the hopes of expediting its passage.
“It is not that we [AMAN] do not want the bill to be passed immediately, but we don’t want it to be passed if [it] is not in accordance to the indigenous people’s demands,” said Abdon Nababan, secretary general of AMAN, at Indigenous People Week held in Jakarta last August.
Nababan underlined three demands of AMAN. “First, we requested for an independent and permanent commission, similar to [a] national commission on human rights, to be established. But, the bill only refers [to] it as an ad hoc committee,” he said. “We refused ad hoc because conflicts related to indigenous people have been going for decades in this country which cannot be solved by just a temporary committee. We are not convinced that it would sort out all those conflicts.”
The second demand, Nababan said, is to simplify the criteria used to define indigenous people.
“Don’t set up complicated criteria for indigenous people. As long as they can show their customary land or tradition clearly then they should be called as indigenous. Don’t make it difficult by asking a lot of requirements,” he said. “If you do, then it’s only a half-hearted recognition and protection for indigenous people.”
Their last demand is that there should be no new customary institution formed by the government, neither at the local nor central level.
“It would be overlapping and unnecessary action. [Indigenous people] have already established their own councils or customary institution many years ago. They also have their own system. It’s best just to let them be.”
Man cutting Nipa palm frons as construction material in Kalimantan. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Slowly moving forward
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people, said efforts to address issues and promote engagement in indigenous communities have been constructive.
In addition to the Indigenous People’s bill, there have been some significant movements in the country to recognize the rights of indigenous people. In particular, the Constitutional Court decision issued in 2012, popularly known as MK35, mandated that customary forests managed by indigenous communities were not to be considered as state forests. Consequently, the state must acknowledged rights of communities over their forests. The decision was hailed as a major victory for indigenous people to be recognized in the Indonesia’s legal system.
“I think it is very important [for the law to acknowledge indigenous people’s rights] because indeed there are very distinct problems that indigenous peoples face because of being indigenous,” said Tauli-Corpuz to Alertnet Climate at the sideline of the event. “If there is no reference to them in the constitutional or no laws that recognized their rights as indigenous peoples then it will be very difficult to get these [rights] respected and protected.”
According to Tauli-Corpuz, a national law is the first major step in recognizing indigenous people’s rights.
“Slowly, [the] indigenous people’s movement is recognizing the need to have the rights officially recognized by state, because the state is the duty bearer of rights. So, it is their duty to recognize those rights,” she said.
Furthermore, Tauli-Corpuz said there are still big challenges in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regions in terms of acknowledgement of indigenous people’s rights.
She cited her own country, the Philippines, which enacted the Indigenous People Act in 1997. However, she said there’s still a long way to go in terms of implementation.
“[These issues exist because] many governments just opted to give away our natural resources to big corporations…even if it means the rights of people who have been saving these resources and using them sustainably are violated, so I think that’s the challenge we face now,” she said. “[The] development model of most governments is how to grow economically by extracting these resources. That’s the big part of the problem…resources cannot be extracted continuously, earth has to renew itself to be able to generate the very basis of the life of most indigenous peoples in the world.
“Many indigenous peoples are dependent on the earth, the land, and the sea. And if you are depriving them of their access and use of these resources and giving it to big corporations, then you are really violating [human] rights.”
Not only is recognition of indigenous rights important for people and communities, it also helps protect Indonesia’s dwindling forests. According to data from Global Forest Watch, the archipelago lost nearly 16 million hectares – or 10 percent – of its forests between 2001 and 2013, much of it to clearing for plantation development. A recent study conducted by World Resources Institute (WRI) and Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) found that empowering local communities may be one of the best ways to protect forests.
Indonesia has one of the world’s highest rates of deforestation, with more than two million hectares of forest lost in 2012 alone. Sumatra has been one of the most affected regions in recent years, with nearly 7.5 million hectares lost between 2001 and 2013, or more than 15 percent of its forests. Map courtesy of Global Forest Watch. Click to enlarge.
Timber, wood fiber, and oil palm plantations are the major drivers of forest loss in Indonesia. Click to enlarge.
Open dialogue between all stakeholders
As a U.N. Special Rapporteur, Tauli-Corpuz said that one of her duties is visiting countries to evaluate how indigenous peoples’ rights are being treated and addressed by governments and other actors, such as corporations and even the military.
Afterwards, she will be making recommendations to governments, indigenous communities, corporations and the U.N., although no sanctions will result if they are not followed.
She underlined the importance of dialogue between all stakeholders, such as governments, indigenous communities and corporations, and that development should not happen at the expense of people who have been relying on and managing natural resources for generations.
“You need to create spaces for dialogue for the government, military, and indigenous peoples to come together. [The military must] understand that indigenous peoples are not the enemy of the state. Military is mandated to fight the enemies of the state and indigenous peoples are part of your country, not enemies,” she said. “Even if there’s a problem, it should be the police dealing with it. Not a military force. That’s something [that must] be understood…all different actors should work together for the sake of everybody, both the majority and minority.”
Furthermore, she said that the way to resolve conflicts is to bring together people, and to help them recognize their common future.
- Hansen, M. C., P. V. Potapov, R. Moore, M. Hancher, S. A. Turubanova, A. Tyukavina, D. Thau, S. V. Stehman, S. J. Goetz, T. R. Loveland, A. Kommareddy, A. Egorov, L. Chini, C. O. Justice, and J. R. G. Townshend. 2013. “UMD Tree Cover Loss and Gain Area.” University of Maryland and Google. Accessed through Global Forest Watch on 16 September 2014.
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