In brief... DTE 62 - August 2004

Down to Earth No 62   August 2004

Community holds Newmont to account
Villagers from Buyat Bay, North Sulawesi have lodged complaints with the police over the devastating health impacts of Newmont Minahasa Raya's gold mine. At least 30 people are believed to have died as a result of the heavy metal pollution caused by the mine, which dumps tailings on the sea-bed. A report from a local university suggests that more than 100 villagers from Buyat are suffering from the effects of heavy metals contamination - including arsenic and mercury - in the Bay, where local people fish. The pollution is believed to have cause the death of a 5-month old baby in early July.

The US-based Newmont, which denies the allegations, has closed down the Sulawesi mine due to depleted gold reserves. An international NGO campaign, co-ordinated by Global Response, is pressing the company to ensure the mine closure, clean-up and reclamation meet US standards; that free health services are provided for the people of Buyat Bay and Ratatotok and fair compensation for lost land and livelihoods is provided.

For details of JATAM's campaign see and DTE 61. (Source: Global Response Alert #3/04 May-June 2004; Dow Jones 21/Jul/04; Jakarta Post 21/7/04 and translation by Tracy Glynn, JATAM of article in Kompas 20/Jul/04.)


Parliament approves mining in protected forests
Indonesia's parliament voted to pass an emergency regulation (Perpu) on mining in protected forests in July - dealing another severe blow to the struggle of forest-dependent communities to defend their livelihoods. The regulation paves the way for 13 companies - including Freeport, Inco, and BHP to resume operations. Environment minister Nabiel Makarim insisted that no more than these 13 would be permitted back into protected forest areas, but NGOs suspect that the government may give way to pressure from more than 100 other companies now that thePerpu has been passed.

NGOs campaigning to prevent the move say they will mount a judicial review and suspect that bribery played a part in the decision. WALHI believes the Australian government put pressure on the Indonesian government to give the go ahead to mining, holding 13 closed door meetings with officials before the Perpu was issued in March this year. For background to this issue and a list of 13 approved companies see  DTE 61 (Jakarta Post 17/Jul/04).


Free the Rampa Fisherfolk, South Kalimantan 
On June 16, 2004, three activists and two fishermen were beaten, arrested and are currently detained at Kota Baru District Police Office in South Kalimantan. Their arrests are the result of a two year peaceful action by the Rampa fisher community, along with local students and activists, against waste dumped on their traditional fishing area by PT Indocement Tunggal Prakarsa Tbk, a subsidiary of Heidelberg Cement Group, Germany. The action, started on June 5, 2004, blocked the company's transport route until it agreed to remove the waste it has dumped on community fishing grounds.

The company built a port and dumped excavated rock from their construction operation into the sea where the community has been making a living from fish and shrimp for generations.

There are approximately 3,700 villagers living in Rampa village and the surrounding villages of Semayap, Kotabaru Hilir and Kotabaru Hulu who depend on the fishing grounds.

Friends of the Earth International has launched a letter-writing campaign at to free those detained and force the company to clean up the fishing grounds.

In a letter sent to the head of the Indonesian Police and the head of the Indonesian Human Rights Commission on 30th June, the community demanded:

  • no more repressive police action against the community;
  • the dismissal of the local police chief;
  • the release of the 5 fisherfolk (one of whom is 80 yrs old) and activists from police detention;
  • the protection of and respect for human rights and environment defenders;
  • action against the company (under Indonesia's 1997 Environment Act) for the environmental damage it has caused;
  • An investigation by the National Human Rights Commission into recent events.

The World Bank has praised Heidleberg Cement and PT ITP for their June 2004 agreement aimed at reducing carbon emissions. (World Bank news release 9/Jun/04;, Ikatan Nelayan Saijaan Kotabaru, letter, 30/Jun/04)


TNI to stop guarding vital projects 
Indonesian troops will no longer guard mines, oil and gas installations and other industrial operations considered "vital projects" if a presidential decree is passed as planned. In June President Megawati approved a proposal to transfer authority for security to the operating companies within one year. Sixty six installations are currently categorised as vital projects, half of them in the energy sector, including mines and oil or gas installations. According to the co-ordinating minister for security affairs, Hari Sabarno, under the decree TNI forces could return to guard sites only at the request of the police who will be deployed in the event of security disturbances. However, national police chief Da'i Bachtiar said the police could not take over from the military due to lack of personnel.

Armed forces commander Gen Endriartono Sutarto, who requested the withdrawal of TNI from guarding sites, said that companies had "neglected their responsibility for security in their own compounds since the deployment of the TNI soldiers," but said that the security forces would "still watch out for them".

Endriartono and the TNI were seriously embarrassed last year when US-based mining company Freeport was forced by a shareholder group to reveal that from 2001-2002 it had handed over more than US $10 million in payments to the military. Guarding vital projects - whether the companies concerned want it or not - has been a lucrative source of extra-budgetary income for the security forces, along with legal and illegal businesses. (Source: Jakarta Post 25/Jun/04. See also DTE 57 for more background on the Freeport case.)


New US West Papua Action Network
West Papua Action Network (WPAN) a US advocacy group was launched in May, with a speaking tour of 10 US cities by Papuan human rights defender John Rumbiak. The network's aim is to stop human rights abuses and genocide in West Papua and to educate policy-makers about the history of US involvement in the region. Papuans became cold war victims, says Rumbiak, when Washington helped broker the transfer of West Papua from the Netherlands to Indonesia. "Denying Papuans the rights to self-determination is the fundamental source of conflict in the region", he said.

US documents released in July this year showed how, in 1969, the Nixon administration was unwilling to raise any objections to West Papua's incorporation into Indonesia even though it was overwhelmingly opposed by Papuans. The US Ambassador at the time noted that Indonesian military operations had "stimulated fears and rumours of intended genocide" among Papuans. An estimated 100,000 Papuans have lost their lives at the hands of Indonesia, since then. A December 2003 report by Yale Law School raises concerns that the Indonesian government/military's actions over the last 30 years may constitute genocide and warrant further investigation. (Contact WPAN at Source: WPAN13/May/04; Asia Times13/Jul/04; Yale Daily News 3/Feb/04)


NGOS demand World Bank loan audit
Indonesia's NGO Coalition Against Debt (KAU) has called for an independent body to determine whether or not World Bank loans should be repaid in full. Around 30% of the cumulative USD25 billion in Bank loans were lost to corruption, according to KAU, which thinks the Bank should take responsibility for being aware of the corruption, but failing to act.

The Bank does not recognise the concept of corrupted or "odious debt", which has been estimated as high as USD100 billion worldwide. The Bank's 60th birthday, in July, was marked by protests in many countries, including Indonesia. Here, civil society organisations believe bank projects have failed to alleviate poverty, leaving instead what WALHI director Longgena Ginting called "a trail of misery on the planet." (Jakarta Post 22/Jul/04; Far Eastern Economic Review 29/Jul/04 - this issue has details of corrupt Bank-funded projects in Indonesia; Why the World Bank Celebrates an Unhappy 60th Birthday, 20/Jul/04 circulated on NGO-forestry-sector-partnership e-list)


Toro indigenous people win UNDP Equator Initiative recognition
The Toro indigenous people of Kulawi, Central Sulawesi, held a traditional celebration on International Biodiversity Day, May 22. The Toro were selected as finalists for this year's Equator Initiative award for the communities' extraordinary commitment in reforming Ngata Toro's customary law. The law recognises the important role of women to make strategic decisions in managing biological diversity.

The award was won by the Citizens Forum for the Bunaken National Park, North Sulawesi. (GEF press release, 19/May/04)