Open letter to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Prime Minister David Cameron

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
Merdeka Palace

The Rt Hon David Cameron, MP
Prime Minister
10 Downing Street

March 17th, 2014

Re:  urgent action on indigenous peoples rights in Indonesia – your role as co-chairs of the High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post 2015 Development Agenda



We are writing to appeal to you for urgent action to implement commitments on indigenous peoples' rights that you have made as co-chairs of the High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post 2015 Development Agenda.

We, civil society organisations based in Indonesia and the United Kingdom, are writing to you, heads of our respective governments, regarding specific unfinished business concerning the rights and livelihoods of indigenous peoples in Indonesia and the implementation of the recent Indonesian Constitutional Court decision on customary forest rights.

We welcome your efforts as co-chairs of the High Level Panel to forge a new global partnership to eradicate poverty and transform economies through sustainable development. We congratulate you for listening to the views of indigenous peoples in your consultations and for including indigenous peoples’ concerns in your May 2013 report: A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies Through Sustainable Development.[i]

We agree with you that a new spirit of solidarity, cooperation, and mutual respect, benefit and accountability must underpin the post-2015 agenda, and that this should be centred around people, including those affected by poverty and exclusion, women, youth, the aged, disabled persons, and indigenous peoples.

We also agree with you that part of addressing poverty is building resilience, and resilience for communities is closely linked to secure rights to land. For indigenous communities (as noted in your report) this means collective rights to land, territories, and resources.

In your report, you call for the sustainable management of natural resource assets (Goal 9) and point to the critical problem of deforestation. You highlight the fact that globally, over a billion people living in rural areas depend on forest resources for survival and income, yet the world loses about 5.2 million hectares of forest per year to deforestation. You also assert that many of these forests have been traditionally managed by indigenous peoples and local communities and that when forests are cleared, people and communities lose a traditional source of their livelihoods, societies lose an important natural resource and the destruction of forests also accelerates climate change, which affects everyone.

This is one of the reasons why measures which protect the rights of indigenous peoples to manage their forests and other natural resources are a crucial part of securing a sustainable future. In Indonesia, where rates of deforestation are critical, one major step forward was taken last year. This was the decision by the Constitutional Court which takes the customary forests of Indonesia’s indigenous peoples out of the control of the state.[ii] This decision has the potential to secure rights to land and resources for millions of indigenous people and help lift many people out of poverty.

However, we deeply regret there has been no progress on implementing this legal change. Instead it is being undermined by new regulations issued by the Forestry Ministry - in particular Ministerial Decree No P.62 amending Ministerial Regulation P.44/2012 on the Establishment of the Forest Zone - bringing further uncertainty for indigenous peoples along with the prospect of more deforestation and worsening poverty. Meanwhile, Law No.18 passed in August 2013 on the Prevention and Eradication of Forest Degradation has been used to evict indigenous Semende communities in Bengkulu and to arrest twelve indigenous community members in Meratus, South Kalimantan.

It is becoming increasingly urgent to take action to implement the Constitutional Court’s decision: indigenous peoples will only suffer further injustice if this flawed new legislation is entrenched during the busy period around the parliamentary and presidential elections in Indonesia this year. We therefore appeal to you to take practical steps now to forge the new, inclusive global partnership you have proposed as High Level Panel co-chairs and thereby drive forward the sustainable development agenda.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, we urge you to intervene personally to issue a Presidential Instruction on indigenous territories which enables the implementation of Constitutional Court’s decision, and repeal all regulations and decisions issued by the Forestry Minister which hinder the implementation of the Constitutional Court’s decision.

We furthermore urge you to ensure that the bill on the Recognition and Protection of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is passed into law during your term as President.

You have personally recognised the significance of the Constitutional Court’s decision, as “an important step towards a full recognition of land and resources rights of adat community and forest-dependent communities”.[iii] As you near the end of your presidency, we trust you will act to ensure this full recognition of indigenous rights is secured. This leadership will ensure you are remembered for your services to indigenous peoples.

Prime Minister David Cameron, we urge you to conduct a review of UK policy towards Indonesia so that conflicting policies on investment and development cooperation are identified and amended to support the recommendations of indigenous peoples noted in the High Level Panel’s Report,[iv] and to support the speedy implementation of Indonesia’s Constitutional Court Decision 35/2012. 

Doing this will help ensure that Britain fulfils its international obligations on indigenous peoples’ rights, and will support Britain’s specific global work on climate, environment and human rights. This includes “protecting the world’s forests and the livelihoods of the 1.2 billion people who depend on them”.[v]  It will also support the Climate Change Unit in Indonesia which is working in four of Indonesia’s forest provinces “to support people in remote communities to have choice and control over their own development and to hold decision makers to account”.[vi]

We look forward to hearing your responses to this urgent matter of concern to both or our countries,


Yours sincerely,

Abdon Nababan,

Secretary-General, Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago (AMAN)

Catherine Scott

Coordinator, Down to Earth, International Campaign for Ecological Justice in Indonesia

[i]     The High-Level Panel’s May 2013 report can be downloaded in English and Indonesian from

[iii]   Speech by H.E.Dr. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, President of the Republic of Indonesia, at the opening of International Workshop on “Tropical Forest Alliance 2020: Promoting Sustainability and Productivity in the Palm Oil and Pulp and Paper Sectors”, Jakarta, 27th June, 2013.

[iv]   These are noted in Annex IV of the High Level Panel’s Report as examples of some of the issues raised as follows: “Mechanisms to recognise and protect the collective rights of indigenous peoples to land, territories and resources and other rights under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) must be ensured” and “Legislative and institutional mechanisms to recognise the indivisible rights of indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, dalits and other socially excluded groups must be put in place.” The report notes that a more extensive list is available at,

[v]    DFID climate and environment focus areas as stated on DFID website at, accessed February 2014