Challenging the position of the state vis à vis indigenous peoples

Down to Earth Special Issue, October 1999

This position statement was drawn up by Congress delegates at the end of a week of discussions about issues facing indigenous peoples.

Long before Indonesia became a republic, a panoply of indigenous communities was distributed across the archipelago. As indigenous peoples, our communities' lives are based on customary rights to certain lands which have been handed down through the generations. We exert sovereignty over these lands and natural resources. Our societies and cultures are governed by customary laws and customary institutions which sustain the continuity of our communities.

We realise that the diversity of indigenous cultures of the archipelago is acknowledged in Indonesia's national motto - 'Unity in diversity' – but our rights are not acknowledged. Indigenous peoples have suffered seriously within the Indonesian Republic. The root cause of this suffering is that the State operates in a way which does not recognise indigenous peoples' sovereignty.


Political control

The institutions which traditionally control indigenous communities have been torn to shreds by the uniform system of local governance and villages imposed through the 1974 Local Governance Law and the 1979 Village Governance Law. The 'official village' concept has generated considerable conflict with the indigenous communities on which it has been forced, since we had our own autonomous customary systems of governance. Indigenous communities have been split apart or forced together in new units. There has been no political recognition of customary institutions' autonomy over internal or external affairs. Even worse, indigenous peoples have had absolutely no representation in the decision-making bodies of the State which determine our fate.


Legal controls

The concept of state control over the land, waters and all the natural resources they contain has been a powerful tool to strip indigenous peoples of our rights. Legislation - such as the Basic Agrarian Act No.5/1960, the Basic Forestry Act No.5/1967 and the Basic Mining Act No.11/1967 - is based on the premise of state control and is a manifestation of the power which the state has exerted to deprive indigenous peoples of our rights over land and natural resources.

In exercising state control, the central government has taken decisions which create the opportunity for serious violations of indigenous peoples' human rights. While Indonesia has been under the control of a military regime, indigenous peoples have suffered violence including intimidation, torture and even murder, mainly when we have fought for our rights or opposed government or private sector projects.


Economic control

Indigenous peoples' extensive lands and the wealth of our natural resources have become the subject of large-scale projects for the government and private investors. With no consultation at all, the government gives new rights to companies and other outside agencies. The Basic Agrarian, Forestry and Mining Laws make it easy for businesses to take our land and exploit the natural wealth which belongs to us.


Society and Culture

Various sorts of indigenous knowledge and skills have been denigrated, eradicated and stolen. Indigenous peoples' understanding and control over our own natural wealth have been destroyed by policies which enforce social and cultural uniformity. The roles of local knowledge and understanding in indigenous peoples lives are totally disregarded by so-called 'modern' culture.


Indigenous Women

It is the women in indigenous communities who suffer most from the political, economic, social and cultural oppression outlined above. Indigenous women suffer greatly, for example from the increased workload resulting from the loss of land and resources and from the violence of harrassment and rape.

"If the state will not acknowledge us, then we will not acknowledge the state"

Through this Congress we have discussed in detail the economic, political, legal, social and cultural problems which confront us. Congress delegates have related many real examples of how we have suffered. The key issue is that the survival of indigenous peoples is threatened by the way in which the State wields its sovereignty and denies our rights.

This Congress of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago challenges the State to recognise us. There must be a re-structuring of indigenous peoples' position. Failure to recognise our rights will weaken the whole nation.


Congress' main demands
  1. All terms which denigrate indigenous peoples must be removed from general usage, such as 'shifting cultivators', 'isolated tribes', 'alienated communities', forest vandals' and 'primitive peoples'. Terms which deny indigenous rights – like 'state land' and 'state forest' must also be eliminated.
  2. Government political, economic, legal, and socio-cultural policies must always fully acknowledge the diversity of indigenous peoples of the archipelago. This must include recognising our rights and protecting and developing customary law, knowledge and skills.
  3. Indigenous peoples' representatives must be included in state institutions so that government decisions – at local and central levels – which disadvantage indigenous peoples can be prevented at the planning stage.
  4. The politicial rights of indigenous peoples to control our own economies, societies, laws and culture must be restored, including our rights over land, natural resources and other sources of livelihood. This should be done through a new law specifically on this issue.
  5. Legislation which deprives indigenous peoples of our rights must be withdrawn or changed. The concept of state control (as contained in the Basic Agrarian, Forestry and Mining Acts and the 1985 Fisheries Law) must be re-examined in order to recognise fully indigenous peoples' sovereignty. Indigenous peoples must be fully involved in drawing up new legislation which recognises our rights.
  6. Discussions must be held about the use of indigenous peoples' lands and resources by government and the private sector, for example, for logging, mining, plantations, fisheries and transmigration programmes. Any further plans of this kind must be based on consultations with the indigenous peoples to whom the land and resources belong and must take into account the effects on indigenous women.
  7. Social welfare programmes, such as poverty alleviation, health, family planning, resettlement of 'alienated tribes', social security and education, must guarantee not to violate indigenous rights – espeicially those of indigenous women. There must be no more discrimination and compulsion in the implementation of these programmes as has been the case, for example, with indigenous women's experiences in the family planning programme. Regulations on marriage which conflict with religious and customary laws must be changed and acknowledge indigenous peoples' practices throughout the archipelago.
  8. There must be no military involvement in civil society as currently exists under the Armed Forces' 'Dual Function' doctrine. Political and security projects, such as special 'Military Operations Areas', must be stopped and never reinstated as these have violated indigenous peoples' human rights through intimidation, torture, rape and killings. In particular, violence against indigenous women, must be stopped. All military and security forces involved in such operations must be returned to their home bases.
  9. The state authorities – legislative, executive, and judiciary – must find a fair means to settle the issue of self-determination of indigenous peoples within the state. It is the State's responsibility to restore the rights of indigenous peoples which have been violated for so long. All parties involved in violating indigenous peoples' human rights - particularly the perpetrators of violence – should be investigated and brought to justice. The State should be responsible for the rehabilitation of victims of human rights violations and should make adequate financial provision for this.
  10. The state executive and legislature must acknowledge and sign international agreements which protect the rights of indigenous peoples, e.g. the International Labour Organisation Convention 169. The Indonesian government should also participate actively in the process of formulating the UN's draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
ILO Convention 169
Definition of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples

Article 1

1a    tribal peoples in independent countries whose social, cultural and economic conditions distinguish them from other sections of the national community, and whose status is regulated wholly or partially by their own customs or traditions or by special laws;

1b     peoples in independent countries who are regarded as indigenous on account of their descent from the populations which inhabited the country, or a geographical region to which the country belongs, at the time of conquest or colonisation or the establishment of present state boundaries and who, irrespective of their legal status, retain some or all of their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions.

2     Self-identification as indigenous or tribal shall be regarded as a fundamental criterion for determining the groups to which the provisions of this Convention apply. (Emphasis added. Ed)