Book Review - Indonesia: Natural Resources and Law Enforcement

Down to Earth No 52, February 2002

Book Review

Indonesia: Natural Resources and Law Enforcement
International Crisis Group, 20 December 2001

The report can be downloaded from

This report, published by Brussels-based think tank ICG, makes an interesting read and contains some good new information, particularly on illegal mining, but key elements are missing in its analysis of natural resource problems in Indonesia.

Natural Resources and Law Enforcement describes how unsustainable resource exploitation, dominated by a corrupt elite close to Suharto, destroyed forests and created conditions for violent conflict in resource rich areas like Kalimantan. It recognises the involvement of corrupt elements in the civil service, security forces and legislature that benefit from the upsurge of illegal logging, mining and fishing that has occurred since Suharto was ousted. The report also recognises the need for reform in the state agencies responsible for regulating resource use and the role to be played by reducing demand for illegal products both by domestic users and by importers in consumer countries.

The report has a special focus on illegal logging and mining with case study material from Central and South Kalimantan. It makes recommendations to the Indonesian government, security forces, importing and trading countries and members of Indonesia's creditor group, the CGI.

What is missing in the report's analysis is the key issue of state law versus adat (customary) law in regulating control over natural resources. This subjugation of adat to state law has led to decades of legalised plunder of lands and resources of indigenous Indonesians by timber, mining, fishing and plantation companies with the result that local communities have been economically and culturally marginalised. AMAN, the indigenous peoples alliance, was founded in 1999 so that these marginalised peoples could start fighting back. Many Indonesian civil society organisations see the model of sustainable resource use developed by indigenous peoples as a starting point for future natural resource management in Indonesia and are pushing for community ownership and right to control what happens to the resources in their areas to be recognised by the state. The fact that the ICG report does not even mention AMAN is an indication of the little attention the authors paid to this issue.