Action needed on human rights and development

Down to Earth No.78, August 2008

NGOs have called on British MPs to take action on climate justice and sustainable livelihoods, impunity, Aceh and West Papua.

In a meeting with British parliamentarians in London, June 3rd, a group of UK-based NGOs, including Down to Earth, called on the British government to take action on a range of issues related to human rights and development. The meeting was held to mark the ten year anniversary of late President Suharto's resignation.1

Guest speaker at the meeting was Suciwati, widow of Indonesia's most prominent human rights defender, campaigner against military impunity, and anti-corruption activist, Munir, who died from arsenic poisoning in 2004.


Climate justice

One of the key legacies of the Suharto regime is the free hand given to big business and the political elites in the exploitation of natural resources. This occurs mainly at the expense of local communities and is aided by corrupt practices and weak or biased regulation. It is the principal cause of forest destruction, severely limiting opportunities for community-based forest management.The legacy of ever-expanding plantations (including pulp and oil palm) and the free rein given to extractive industries further illustrate the ethos of profit before people and the environment. This situation is aggravated by the policies of international financial institutions and the lack of any pro-poor, or pro-human rights land reform policy.

The climate change debate highlights how the impacts of these issues are no longer confined to directly affected local communities. Recent studies have shown that Indonesia is both a major contributor to climate change and highly vulnerable to its impacts.

Forest destruction, peatland degradation and forest fires are mostly to blame for Indonesia's ranking as third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after the USA and China. Around two billion Megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2e) are released each year from peatland degradation alone. The predicted impacts of climate change include more intense rainfall with risks of increased flooding; threats to food sovereignty due to impacts on agriculture; sea level rises affecting productive coastal agricultural and fisheries; warmer ocean water, putting further pressure on coral reefs; and intensification of diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.2

Forest destruction is rated the second biggest contributor of greenhouse gases, amounting to 18% of carbon emissions globally. However, as well as preserving the forests, governments must also cut emissions from energy generation, transport and industry. In seeking 'climate justice', we aim to promote equitable solutions based on the rights, needs, participation and agreement of communities exposed to the greatest impact of climate change or attempts at its mitigation. In Indonesia, these communities range from forest-dwellers whose lands and resources are being converted to oil palm plantations without their consent to coastal villages whose homes and livelihoods are threatened by sea-level rises and ocean warming.

Local communities, including indigenous peoples whose customary rights over land and resources are not adequately recognised under Indonesian law, could be further marginalised under climate change mitigation measures such as 'avoided deforestation' projects likely to attract large amounts of international funding.

Schemes like these raise serious questions about control over forests, how much is paid and to whom, what kind of forests qualify and who makes and enforces these decisions. Linking forest conservation to an international carbon market mechanism is a strategy opposed by many civil society organisations, including indigenous peoples, because it will be profit-driven and is likely to benefit elites and further marginalise forest-dwellers.

Solutions to climate change must also focus on far-reaching change in the North, including reductions in energy consumption and a shift to clean, renewable energy. Such mitigation efforts must not have negative knock-on effects in other countries. For example, the effects associated with the promotion of palm oil as a 'green fuel' in Europe means that in Indonesia, rural communities feel the impacts of oil palm expansion and the wider community feels the consequent impact on food prices.

Climate change, climate justice and sustainable livelihoods are closely linked, since community management of resources that support livelihoods offers a better chance of long term sustainability than top-down schemes which serve business interests and reinforce global inequality.


Recommended actions:

To promote climate justice and sustainable livelihoods in Indonesia, parliamentarians are urged to press the UK Government to:

  • ensure the views of local communities inform/underpin all international negotiations on climate change and ensure that all proposed climate-related initiatives comply with international human rights standards, including the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples.
  • provide substantial grants - not loans - for climate change initiatives and promote similar international funding for sustainable livelihoods projects as a way of mitigating the causes of climate change as well as ensuring vulnerable communities can adapt to its impacts.
  • urge the European Commission to reconsider agrofuel targets (and, if necessary, rescind the UK's Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO)) due to mounting evidence of the connection between palm oil production and the destruction of forests, biodiversity and the negative impact on communities' livelihoods and food sovereignty.
  • strengthen UK legislation on social responsibility, transparency and investment in the extractive industries to make UK companies operating in the region (including BP's Tangguh project and Rio Tinto's Grasberg mine venture, both in West Papua) accountable for environmentally and socially damaging practices.

Recommended actions on other issues included:

Aceh: the UK government is urged to work, as part of the EU, to help ensure that both a Human Rights Court for Aceh and a Commission for Truth and Reconciliation for Aceh are established as soon as possible.

Papua: the UK government is urged to help improve the situation for Papuans by encouraging the Indonesian government to:

  • Account for its failure to implement special autonomy in Papua.
  • Look carefully at the role of the military (TNI) in Papua, in particular at the use of the TNI to repress the indigenous population; to investigate Human Rights abuses by the TNI and other elements of the security forces; and to fulfil its obligations as a member of the UN Human Rights Council to fully respect and protect the rights of the Papuan people.
  • Allow the Papuan people to voice their concerns and aspirations by exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly without hindrance or intimidation; and release unconditionally all Papuans imprisoned for peacefully exercising those fundamental rights.
  • Allow free and unfettered access to Papua by foreign journalists and international human rights organisations.
  • Ensure that Human Rights Defenders in Papua can carry out their work without fear of intimidation and violence with the more systematic implementation of the EU Guidelines for the protection of Human Rights Defenders in the field and the recommendations of the UN Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders.

Impunity: as a contribution to efforts to end impunity, UK parliamentarians are requested to:

  • Encourage the FCO to make impunity a priority issue in its relations with Indonesia and press Indonesia to implement in full the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and the UN Committee Against Torture.
  • Press for an end to the culture of impunity in West Papua and for the resolution of those cases which the National Commission on Human Rights has found to be gross violations of human rights.

The recommendations were all supported by: CAFOD, TAPOL, PBI, DTE, FWPC and Progressio. The full briefing is available at

1. The Indonesia NGO Forum has no fixed membership, but groups attending meetings have included Peace Brigades International; TAPOL; CAFOD, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch; Progressio, Islamic Relief; Free West Papua Campaign; and Oxfam as well as Down to Earth.
2. 'Indonesia and Climate Change: Current Status and Policies' PT Pelangi Energi Abadi Citra Enviro (PEACE), May 2007