The Neglectful State

Schoolgirls, Kampung Niut, West Kalimantan (DTE)

DTE 99-100, October 2014

By Mia Siscawati[1]

This article was prepared for the National Commission for Human Rights as part of its 2014 National Inquiry into the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to their Territories in the Forest Zone.[2] DTE’s translation was done with kind permission of the author, and with her assistance.

Banang is a ten year-old girl who lives in a rumah betang or longhouse in an indigenous village in the interior of Kapuas Hulu, West Kalimantan. At the moment she is in the fourth year of primary school. Her ambition is to become a teacher. Banang’s friend Galu, a girl who lives next door in the longhouse, wants to be a midwife. But the odds are stacked against these girls achieving their goal. They may well be stopped in their tracks as soon as finishing primary school. The girls’ older sisters’ schooling stopped after primary school and they were married at a very young age. When they were Banang and Galu’s age they too had ambitions. Sadly, there were too many obstacles preventing them from fulfilling their dreams. It takes six hours to get to the nearest secondary school and back every day. Even though the school doesn’t charge fees, their families are too poor to pay for either the costs of travelling to the school or for room and board at the school. Their families were also not prepared to let their girls go to secondary school for other reasons: there is a continuing tradition of marrying girls at a very young age. These are the problems faced by Banang and Galu, too.

Banang and Galu’s parents and the parents of other girls they are friends with must struggle with poverty and the harshness of life in their village. It is an indigenous village which owns abundant forests and other natural resources: primary forest, mature gardens and groves,  including tembawang (mixed groves of various kinds of fruit trees as well as trees for timber); rubber trees, dry rice-fields (ladang) vegetable gardens as well as a river (which provides fish and water). These agrarian resources have been managed by the people of the village for several generations and sustain the life of the village. Local knowledge, traditions and customary laws form the foundation for regulating and managing them. Women in this village have their own specialist knowledge and play an important role in managing the village’s resources. However, the people don’t actually control those resources.

The state has established the whole of this village’s customary territory as a state forest area, to be used as production forest (hutan produksi). The Forestry Ministry has issued companies with ‘licences for the utilization of timber in natural forests’ (Izin Usaha Pemanfaatan Hasil Hutan Kayu dalam Hutan Alam), previously known as ‘forest concessions’ (Hak Pengusahaan Hutan/HPH). Over time, these licences have been issued to several different companies. The arrival of the logging companies has transformed village life. The women and men of the village can no longer cultivate the same extent of fields, groves, gardens or forests resources within their customary territory that they once did. As a result, the remaining fields can no longer supply enough food to feed their families. Forest destruction by the companies’ logging operations has made it difficult for women to find the various forest plants used for making food and medicines. They can no longer access their own gardens and groves where they grew rubber and various fruit trees as well as trees for timber. These trees were previously a financial resource for the family. Life gets increasingly difficult when a family member falls ill and there are medical costs to pay. Some families are starting to get into debt with moneylenders from outside the village. The closing down of access to the lands and resources that sustain their lives and the destruction of the environment that is happening there is ensnaring the villagers in poverty. Women from poor families, including women heads of households, adolescent and young girls are in a more vulnerable position. Girls from poor families are vulnerable to inducements offered to the families and the girls themselves to leave the village to become child labourers. They are also at risk of falling victim to trafficking in women and children, a problem which is starting to become more widespread.

In order to survive, some of the adult men take low-paid labouring jobs with the logging companies; some leave the village to find work elsewhere; while others try their luck by venturing deep into the jungle to scavenge for any remaining non-timber forest products. With the men being away for long stretches of time, the burden becomes heavier for the women. Things become more complex when people start getting into arguments with the company. These disputes develop into conflicts, to which the company responds by using violence and threatening the safety of the villagers. Poverty and the various forms of social injustice that accompany it, the traditions perpetuated by poverty and social injustice which put women in second place or marginalize them entirely,, added to agrarian conflict, mean that women and girls are also more vulnerable to gender-based violence.

Stories like this, with different variations, are common to many of the country’s indigenous territories, which have been one-sidedly established as state forests, controlled by the Forestry Ministry. Forest village identification data issued by the Forestry Ministry in 2007 (covering 15 provinces) and in 2009 (covering 17 other provinces), shows a total of 25,863 villages within the state forest zone. In 2009, the State Ministry for the Acceleration of Development of Disadvantaged Regions showed that the percentage of poor families living in forest villages was more than twice that of the family poverty percentage for the whole of Indonesia. In April 2013, the Forestry Ministry stated that 21 percent of people living in and around forests were poor. Nevertheless, there has been no significant change in policies relating to forests and forestry. Ninety percent of forest management licences are in the hands of corporations.

A closer examination of the statistics in forest resource-rich regions (or regions which were previously rich), but where control over the forests and the forests resources within them is in the hands of the state and management is in the hands of corporations or government agencies, shows not only that the majority of those areas have a high level of poverty, but also that education levels are low and health is poor. Education and health statistics in 2012 for the kabupaten (district below province-level) where Banang and Galu’s village is located show that the average time spent in school is 7.18 years. This means that the villagers only attend school up to the first year of junior high school (when they are 13 years old). Among villagers above the age of 10 years old, 6.65% remain illiterate, with the illiteracy rate for girls higher than for boys of the same age. Statistics from the same year (2012) show that the percentage of women marrying young remains high, with 30.34% marrying between the ages of 16-18 and 6.75% under 15 years old. Women’s reproductive health in this district is also poor, and the rate of deaths in childbirth has shown an upward trend in the past four years. The rate of neonatal deaths, ie deaths of babies within 28 days of birth, is also quite high in this district. The same goes for the death rate in babies between 29 days and eleven months old.

West Kalimantan is one of the provinces whose figures for deaths of mothers in childbirth are high. In 2012 the death rate for women in childbirth in West Kalimantan was 403 deaths for every 100,000 live births, almost twice the national level of 228 deaths for every 100,000 live births. Two other mortality figures, neonatal deaths and the deaths of babies from 29 days to 11 months are also high in this province. The districts in this province, known to be rich in forest resources, have three high sets of death rates. In addition, , the province’s figures for trafficking in women are also quite high.[3]

What does all this data indicate? First, it shows that the profile of poverty, social injustice and gender injustice in indigenous territories where the lives of communities depend on forest resources and other agrarian resources, is closely connected with the unequal control of land perpetuated by the state. Moreover, this data, together with various sad stories about indigenous peoples, including the unhappy stories of women and other vulnerable people in the community which aren’t covered by the statistics, paint a picture of a neglectful state. This is a state which is failing in its duty to respect, fulfil and protect human rights, especially the economic, social and cultural rights of indigenous peoples, including women and girls. Different pieces of legislation, including Forestry Law No. 41 of 1999, Law No 21 of 2013 on the Eradication and Prevention of Forest Destruction, plus various regulations flowing from those laws provide a basis for the state to grab the land that people depend upon for their lives, in the interest of corporations and other political actors with different interests. This is the concrete manifestation of a state which is failing in its obligation to respect, fulfil and protect the human rights of indigenous peoples, including women, girls and vulnerable people in those communities.

The Indonesian Constitution contains a series of provisions to protect human rights. These are regulated by Law No.39 of 1999 on Human Rights. There are three state obligations related to human rights. First, the duty to respect human rights. Second the obligation to fulfil human rights – ie the obligation to take legislative, administrative, judicial and practical measures to guarantee the fulfilment of human rights. Third, the obligation to protect human rights, ie the obligation to protect human rights against potential violations carried out by the state itself or by other actors. The Constitutional Court’s ruling in Case No.35/PUU-X/2012 which revised several articles of Forestry Law No.41 1999 relating to customary forests and simultaneously recognized indigenous peoples as rights-holders, should be interpreted as opening the door to enforcing the state’s obligation to respect, fulfil and protect the human rights of indigenous peoples.[4] The draft law on the recognition and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples which is being deliberated in parliament is another important entry-point for the state to carry out these three main obligations.

Measures to respect, fulfil and protect the human rights of indigenous peoples, and the special rights attached to indigenous women, have been developed by several countries, including the Philippines. In 1997, not long after the fall of the Ferdinand Marcos regime, the Philippines established the Indigenous Peoples’ Right Act (IPRA). In addition to recognizing indigenous peoples’ rights in general, this law also recognized their rights to their customary, ancestral territories. Following this law, a National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) was formed, under the office of the President. This national commission became the main government institution responsible for drafting and carrying out policies, drafting plans and programs to recognize, protect and promote the rights of indigenous peoples in the Philippines. Activists in the Filipino indigenous rights movement who are concerned with indigenous women, are continuing to push to ensure that the recognition and protection of indigenous women’s rights is not left out.

Indonesia urgently needs to catch up by drawing up measures to respect, fulfil and protect the human rights of indigenous peoples and the special rights that apply to indigenous women and vulnerable people within those communities. The newly elected President in 2014 must take political action to stop this tradition of the state failing to meet its obligations regarding these people. The legislative, executive and judiciary and various other parties need to work together. The state can no longer ignore repeated human rights violations against indigenous peoples, indigenous women and vulnerable people within indigenous communities. It must no longer close its eyes to, or even destroy, the future of Banang, Galu and girls from other poor and marginal families in indigenous territories throughout the land. The state must no longer fail in its obligations.

[1] Head of Graduate Program in Gender Studies, University of Indonesia, Researcher at the Anthropological Studies Centre, Faculty of Social and Political Science, University of Indonesia,and founding member of RMI-the Indonesian Institute for Forest and Environment

[3] According to the 2012 Joint Policy Brief of the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Children Protection and the National Planning Agency (author’s note).

[4] DTE note: Mia Siscawati has also written about the gender dimensions of the Constitutional Court ruling. She points out that indigenous women continue to have limited representation and involvement in the struggles of indigenous peoples to reclaim their rights, including the rights over customary territories. See Mia Siscawati, Pertarungan Penguasaan Hutan dan Perjuangan Perempuan Adat, Wacana Jurnal Transformasi Sosial, Nr 33, Year XVI, 2014.