Versi Bahasa
Down to Earth No. 58, August 2003

Indigenous people's lawsuit fails

PT IMK will not have to pay compensation for throwing people out of their mining areas.
by Erma S. Ranik

"Since the beginning of IMK's operations, fish have become scarce because IMK has polluted the river and our livestock can no longer graze because IMK has destroyed the area. I hope that IMK never conducts mining activities again because IMK has only added to the poverty and hardship found in our community,"

Testimony of 80-year old former Dayak leader Sakung, South Jakarta Court, February 2003 (JATAM)

On June 17th, the panel of judges of South Jakarta State court rejected the lawsuit submitted by twenty nine gold miners against gold mining company PT Indo Muro Kencana (IMK) on the grounds that it was "incomplete". The court had postponed its final verdict on several occasions. The trial began in February this year.

According to the judges, the suit should not just have been brought against PTIMK but also against the Indonesian government, specifically the minister of mining and minerals. This was because the Contract of Work (CoW) was agreed between the company and the government of Indonesia represented by the mining minister. "Clearly, the two parties are very closely connected in taking over the mining area," said judge Zainal Abidin.

The grounds on which the judges rejected the miners' lawsuit are rather strange. On the one hand, the court, led by Zainal Abidin and accompanied by I Dewa Gde Putra Jadnya and Marsup, acknowledged that PT IMK had in fact taken over possession of mining pits owned by indigenous people. On the other hand, the court would not accept the validity of the case. "This lawsuit was not wrongly addressed, but we cannot accept it," said Zainal.

This opinion fits with the defence submitted by PT IMK's lawyers, which also said that the people's lawsuit was incomplete. The court's decision is therefore a victory for the company.

History of the conflict

The company started constructing the mine in mid-1993. Full production started in November 1994, at 137,986 ounces of gold and 3,429,000 ounces of silver, during 1995.

From 1993, 90% of PT IMK's shares were held by Australia's Aurora Gold. Before that it was owned by PT Gunung Muro Perkasa, Duval Corporation of Indonesia (US), Pelsart Muro Pty Ltd (Australia) and Jason Mining (Australia). PT IMK was sold to another Australian company, Archipelago Resources last year, although Aurora remains responsible for the reclamation of all existing mining areas at the mine, which ceased production in June last year.

PT IMK secured its Contract of Work from former President Suharto on 21 January 1985 (No. B-07/Pres/1/1985). The CoW licences PT IMK to exploit gold in Permata Intan, Murung and Tanah Siang subdistricts, Barito Utara district and is valid for thirty years from February 1985 to 2014.

This CoW started the lengthy conflict between PT IMK and the local indigenous people. Local gold miners who had lived and mined gold around Mount Muro, in Barito Utara district, Central Kalimantan since 1982, were gradually evicted from their mining areas.

The evictions were accompanied by acts of violence and human rights violations. The local community protested. Those who held out on their lands were faced with new problems. The company brought in Brimob, the elite police force, to force the indigenous people to leave their mines. There were casualties. Two people were shot dead by Brimob troops (5/Jun/01) and a youth was shot in the leg (27/Aug/2001). Another man was shot in the head with a rubber bullet (19/Jan/2002).

"I decided to leave Indo Muro Kencana because I could no longer bear to see the hardship and suffering that was being experienced by my family."

Former IMK employee, Linga, South Jakarta Court, Feb 2003 (JATAM)

A different path

The company's behaviour led the community to find other ways of seeking justice. With the help of NGOs like WALHI and JATAM, they submitted their case to several bodies. They also decided to try to seek justice through the legal system.

Twenty nine indigenous gold miners sued for compensation of Rp 364 million and 380 grammes of gold. The compensation demand was directed at PT IMK, which had evicted them from their mining areas.

They were assisted by the Peoples Mining Advocacy Team (TATR), which made it clear that the lawsuit was not for compensation for crops belonging to the local people, but for their mining pits. "All testimonies say that PT IMK never paid compensation for the mining pits." "Compensation was limited to houses and crops. Whereas the loss of mining pits, the people's source of livelihood, has not been compensated," said Zen Smith from TATR. The decision issued by the court, rejecting the lawsuit, was a disappointment for TATR. "We need time to think about this..," said Zen Smith.

(Source:, JATAM -, Oxfam, Tempo Interaktif.
For more background see also DTE 55 and 52)

Note: Thousands of Dayak Siang, Murung and Bakumpai lost their farm land because of the IMK mine. The mine closure plan (as of 2000) was woefully inadequate. The main pit was due to be filled with water to form a lake 1 km in diameter and 80m deep. There are real questions about the safety of the tailings dam and contamination of water courses and ground water from seepage or leaching. This could be a disaster, especially as some indigenous people and hundreds of outsiders are still determined to extract any remaining gold from the concession area, including the main site.

People who lost their land and rubber plantations only got very low compensation - which was spent long ago - because their lands were said to be "state land". They now have nothing else to live on other than 'illegal mining'.

(Article translated from Indonesian by DTE)

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