Indigenous Peoples force suspension of Jakarta aid meeting

Down to Earth No 57  May 2003

Indigenous Peoples walked out of a meeting with the British government aid agency, DFID, in March, in response to a controversial statement by a senior Indonesian government forestry official.

Around a hundred people from indigenous groups, local communities and supporting organisations refused to continue DFID's second annual Multi-stakeholder Forestry Programme meeting in Yogyakarta following comments by the Indonesian forestry ministry's secretary general. In his opening speech, Wahjudi Wardojo ruled out the possibility of changes in government policy to allow indigenous peoples to own forest lands. He said this was because of the experience in Jambi province (Sumatra) where communities had sold their land within five years of getting ownership. As a result, he said, "the people will never be landowners." Instead, communities were permitted to use the forests through the Social Forestry Programme.

The walk-out resulted in DFID deciding to suspend the meeting to allow time for indigenous groups and the forestry ministry to hold discussions. The meeting was supposed to be resumed within 40 days, but now is due to be reconvened in mid-June.

Recognition of the right to own forest lands and resources is a central demand of indigenous peoples in Indonesia, and of the national indigenous peoples organisation, AMAN. It is a demand that is widely supported by Indonesian environmental and human rights NGOs as well as international organisations. Indonesia's forestry department is resisting recognition of these rights, although under decentralisation, its authority to do so is being weakened. While there is a strong reform-minded contingent within the Jakarta ministry, it remains home to a group of Suharto-era die-hards who are resistant to any changes which may threaten their authority further.

DFID's support for civil society organisations, including those demanding the recognition of their land and resource rights, is aimed at supporting reformist elements within the forestry department.

In a statement the protesting participants said they came to the meeting fully expecting that the Multi-Stakeholder Forestry Programme would bring about forestry reform, but were now "disappointed, sad, angry and concerned" after hearing the secretary general's comment. This, they said, insults the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) which has clearly recognised the need to acknowledge indigenous peoples' rights. (This refers to the decrees passed by the MPR - Indonesia highest legislative body - in November 2001on Agrarian Renewal and Natural Resources Management (see DTE 52 and MPR article in this issue).

The statement also said the secretary-general's statement showed an insulting attitude to adat (customary law) and traditional knowledge which has long been proven capable of protecting forests and people's livelihoods.

The groups said there was no point in developing the Multi-Stakeholder programme if the government was determined to remain isolationist. They demanded that the forestry department withdraw the statement and, instead, state that it is prepared to "acknowledge, respect and protect indigenous peoples' and other communities' rights as promised in the Indonesian Constitution and MPR decrees."

(Source: Position Statement, indigenous peoples, local communities and supporting organisations at the second annual meeting of the DFID MSF Programme, 26/Mar/03)

AMAN protests against forced evictions in Southeast Sulawesi

The indigenous peoples organisation, AMAN, has protested against the forced eviction of the Watoputih indigenous community from a 'protection forest' in Muna district, Southeast Sulawesi province.

In February and March this year, security forces burned down homes and destroyed people's property in an attempt to force them out. Four members of the Watoputih community were arrested in January as they attempted to defend their land from the claims of the district government.

On April 10th, a further eviction effort met stiff resistance when local people blocked the path of two excavators and hundreds of security personnel, by lying down in front of the vehicles. Women linked arms to form a barrier against the excavators.

The local commander eventually called off the eviction in order to avoid casualties. Three trucks of police and two trucks of soldiers from the local military command were reported to be ready for a further eviction attempt.

In their letter to the Muna district head, AMAN said the violent and destructive evictions violated the Indonesian constitution, and went against the principles of justice and human rights. AMAN is demanding that the local government and security forces immediately stop the evictions, release the four people arrested, carry out their duty to protect the Watoputih indigenous community and stop all forms of intimidation against people who are supporting and accompanying the Watoputih community. (AMAN letter 21/Apr/03; AMAN email notice 16/Apr/03)


Aid marginalises Indigenous Peoples

A new study by Forest Peoples Programme reveals how aid fails to respect Indigenous People's rights.