AMAN and the Second AMAN Congress

Down to Earth No 59  November 2003

An interview with Rukka Sombolinggi, from the indigenous people of Toraja in South Sulawesi, works for AMAN's secretariat in Jakarta as campaign co-ordinator. She helped organise the second AMAN Congress.


What were the main achievements of the second AMAN Congress?

There were five main aims of the Second AMAN Congress. These were: first, to review how the decisions of the first Congress have been implemented, failures and successes, as input for strengthening the indigenous peoples' movement in Indonesia. Second, to conduct a dialogue and negotiations with national level political forces. Third, to consolidate the indigenous movement in Indonesia as a part of civil society, and speed up the recognition of indigenous rights as basic human rights, for democratisation and for environmental conservation. Fourth, to formulate indigenous positions and perspectives on a new relationship between the State and indigenous peoples, which moves towards sovereignty and autonomy for Indonesia's indigenous peoples to decide the social, political, economic and religious aspects of their lives. And fifth, to build alliances between indigenous peoples and pro-democracy and progressive reformist groups both at national and international levels, in order to fight for the rights of indigenous peoples.

The Congress produced three important documents: the Resolution, the AMAN Statutes and the 2003-2006 Action Plan. The Statutes set out the basic principles, vision and mission of AMAN as an organisation. The Action Plan consists of the targets that AMAN wants to reach in the next three years, while the resolution contains AMAN's demands to the government and its appeal to all indigenous peoples across the archipelago.


How has AMAN progressed as a people's movement since the first Congress?

Basically, from what I can see so far, indigenous peoples are more organised, more able to be a pressure group and to garner solidarity and support from other civil society groups. I see this as something AMAN as an organisation must step up in the future.

Of course there are a lot of internal issues that indigenous peoples themselves have to be able to address, for example there is a belief that indigenous peoples are feudal (this is, in my opinion, a widespread misunderstanding), women's issues and also issues related to representation. And I am also totally convinced that all this is a process that will take a long'll be a long struggle yet...there's still a lot that needs to be sorted out.


Have there been any changes in the basic demands since 1999?

I don't think there have been any fundamental changes, because in the last four years the social, political, economic and cultural problems faced by indigenous people are still the same, the enemy is still the same and there hasn't been any significant change yet. There are several regions where there have been quite good developments, but that's not a basis for saying that there have been significant changes.


How has the government's attitude towards masyarakat adat changed (if at all) since AMAN was established.

So far there have actually been several changes at policy level, like the recognition of indigenous peoples in article 18B clause 2 in the amendment to the 1945 Constitution and there is also MPR decree IX [see DTE 52 for background] but until now, at the practical level, I haven't yet seen any inclination or positive change in the position of the government, especially in sectoral departments like the Department of Forestry and the Department of Energy and Mineral Resources. Even regional autonomy has not been able to deliver any meaningful change because it has not been able to restore autonomy to indigenous peoples. It has only distributed power from Jakarta to the Bupati [district heads] who then become the new power at district level, and this then triggers huge amounts of natural resource exploitation.


Why was Lombok chosen as the venue for the Congress?

Lombok was chosen as the venue through the Third Working Meeting of AMAN's Board (Raker DAMAN III) in Liwa, West Lampung, in 2002. At that time three organisations felt ready and they volunteered to organise the congress. These were AMA Kalbar (Indigenous Peoples Alliance, West Kalimantan), BPRPI from North Sumatra and Perekat Ombara from North Lombok in West Nusa Tenggara. Lombok was selected because it was thought it would be easier to access since it was in the middle of the archipelago and, from the cost side, it was thought to be the cheapest.


In which parts of Indonesia has there been most progress for Indigenous Peoples? Why?

There are four important factors for the indigenous peoples movement in different regions. First, whether or not there is awareness among indigenous peoples themselves to stand up and challenge things in an organised way. Second, the leadership/motivator factor. Third, supporting groups, or NGOs. Fourth, local geo-political conditions. These first three factors are important conditions and must be mutually supportive. If a community is to be the basis of opposition, it needs a leader who is strong, wise and able to understand what people want and to communicate this to others. Meanwhile, supporting groups must be able to read conditions in the field and provide technical services in accordance with the peoples' needs.

These three factors exist (and work together) in several areas where the indigenous peoples movement is currently quite strong, for example Aceh, Bengkulu, Jambi, West Kalimantan, South Kalimantan, Java, Central Sulawesi, South Sulawesi, Maluku etc. In some places, all three factors are present but operating independently - so the results are not so good.


Are indigenous peoples in Indonesia in a stronger position now than 4 years ago?

Yes, indigenous peoples are now more organised. A collective awareness is emerging as well the confidence to stand up and fight for their rights. Along with that, as a part of a wider civil society movement, indigenous peoples have started to build solidarity and work together with other groups like peasants, fisherfolk, urban poor, workers etc. Indigenous peoples are capable of becoming a force which puts pressure on the government and others.


Does AMAN have links with indigenous peoples organisations in other countries? Where are these strongest and why?

As part of the global indigenous peoples movement, AMAN is well aware that links with and support from indigenous peoples organisations in other countries is very important, but so far such links are still very limited. Because, to date, AMAN has been more focussed on consolidation and advocacy at the national and regional levels. I hope that in future AMAN will have sufficient energy to establish such international links.


Which international standards or conventions have most potential for helping indigenous peoples in Indonesia, in your opinion?

There are several which, in my opinion, have great potential to become tools for indigenous peoples struggling for their rights. Firstly, ILO Convention 169: unfortunately the Indonesian government hasn't ratified this yet because it is aware that if it did, the impact would be enormous. If indigenous peoples were recognised then all indigenous peoples' natural wealth, like customary forests which have been seized by the state, would have to be returned to them. Secondly, the UN Draft Declaration on Indigenous Peoples, which, at the moment, is still at the discussion stage. Unfortunately, groups from different countries still have differing positions on the draft, but if it succeeds, this will have a huge impact politically for the indigenous peoples' movement in general. AMAN does view this draft as rather problematic because indigenous communities, especially AMAN, have demanded communal rights (it is these rights that make indigenous peoples special). AMAN's view is that individual rights have extensive safeguards under other international legal instruments. Unfortunately this draft, in parts, strongly emphasises individual rights. If enforced in Indonesia, this could become a threat for indigenous peoples because small elites could use it to justify acting in the name of indigenous peoples. It could reinforce the current practices of the government to "select and protect" leaders who are used to legitimise all consultations and agreements concerning indigenous peoples' territories. However, if the negotiations on the draft failed, this would be a blow to the indigenous movement and weaken their negotiating position at all levels.

There are a lot more instruments that can be used as tools by indigenous peoples in Indonesia. There are many opportunities, not only at international level, but also at national level as well as in their own areas. Indigenous peoples need to be able to see and seize all opportunities, to develop strategies to build up their strength, not just within the movement, but also through strategic alliances. Then all elements of indigenous peoples must be able to move forward together to seize their rights and sovereignty.