In Brief... DTE 55 - November 2002

Down to Earth No 55  November 2002

Kalimantan border oil palm?

East Kalimantan governor Abdul Fatah said his administration is looking into the possibility of developing oil palm plantations near the province's border with Sabah, Malaysia, to create jobs for a million migrant workers expelled from Malaysia. However, the border area is a protected forest, meaning that, according to eastern Indonesian development minister Manuel Kaisiepo, "forestry regulations would seem to be in the way." He suggested an inter-departmental field survey to decide whether or not the plantations should be established there. (Jakarta Post 16/Sep/02)


North Sumatra trawler protest

Hundreds of fishermen in from North Sumatra protested outside the provincial assembly building in Medan, September, against the use of trawlers. The fishermen, from the Alliance of North Sumatra Traditional Fishermen, demanded the resignation of fisheries minister, Rokhmin Dahuri, whose ministry is currently drafting a decree to allow trawlers to operate in the country's waters. (JakartaPost 17/Sep/02)

A current ban on trawling in coastal waters is ignored by many trawl operators, who collude with security and government officials to fish illegally in coastal waters traditionally owned by fishing communities (see DTE 51).


Rio + 10: minister accused of lying

The Indonesian People's Forum, an alliance of NGOs including WALHI, INFID, WWF and Kehati, accused the government of lying at August's World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg. IPFsaid the government had provided misleading information in its country report, circulated to delegates at the summit, including forest data. Environment minister Nabiel Makarim denied the accusations and refused to withdraw the report, saying it was based on recognised official data.

The alliance also expressed disappointment over the outcome of the summit, saying it was too pro-industry at the expense of the poor. (Jakarta Post 13&27/Sep/02)


Landmark rights decision in Unocal case

A US federal appeals panel has ruled that multinational companies can be held liable in US courts for aiding and abetting human rights violations committed by others abroad. The unprecedented ruling came in a case brought by Burmese villagers against the oil and gas company, Unocal. The case, to be heard in February 2003, accuses the company of turning a blind eye to abuses including murder, rape and forced labour, committed by Burmese soldiers along a gas pipeline project. Corporations usually get such cases dismissed before trial. (Los Angeles Times 19/Sep/02)


ExxonMobil case, Aceh

The ruling has been seen as a breakthrough for foreigners seeking to hold multinational companies accountable for complicity with repressive regimes. One such case in involves the US oil and gas corporation ExxonMobil. The company is being sued by the Washington-based International Labor Rights Fund on behalf of eleven Acehnese villagers who suffered gross human rights violations at the hands of military guards at the company's gas operations in Aceh (see DTE 53/54 and DTE 50).

In August, the US State Department agreed with the company that the case could endanger Indonesia's cooperation in fighting terrorism. (New York Times, 19/Aug/02,


Unocal oil spill

Unocal itself has a poor reputation in Indonesia, amongst communities living near its gas operations in Kalimantan. In September, mining advocacy NGO JATAMaccused the company of covering up an offshore oil spill at its West Seno deepwater well in the Makassar Straits. JATAM says the project, which is due to start production in 2003, could be the start of a disaster for the environment and people around Tanjung Santan. JATAM has also accused Unocal of violating the law as it failed to involve the local community in its environmental impact assessment.

Along with other NGOs, JATAMhas raised concerns with the US government's political risk insurance agency OPIC, over its plan to finance the West Seno Iand II oil and gas projects. The group has called on the government not to approve the project.

In October 2000, 23 villagers from the Tanjung Santan area demonstrating against pollution and inadequate compensation were injured when police moved in to break up the protest (see DTE 47).

"The evidence shows that for thirty years Unocal has been causing environmental damage and misery to the people in East Kalimantan," says JATAM. (Jakarta Post1/Oct/02, see also DTE IFIs Update 26, June 2002)


Nuclear plan resurrected

Indonesia is planning to build a nuclear power plant by the year 2015 at the latest to meet the country's mounting power needs, according to Yusri Henri, head of the Development of Nuclear Power Supervisory Agency. (Straits Times 19/Oct/02)

In 1996 the country's nuclear power agency, Bataan, announced that between seven and twelve nuclear power plants would be constructed in Indonesia, with the first plant, at the foot of a dormant volcano in West Java, becoming operational in 2003. The plan was shelved in 1997 (see DTE 33:13).


INFID conference statement

The International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID) has issued a 10-page conference statement covering conflict, human rights and impunity; debt and globalisation; and poverty and inequality. Contact