Towards ecological justice in Indonesia

Down to Earth No. 38, August 1998

In post-Suharto Indonesia, the reform movement is pushing for a new, clean government and demanding that the nation's rich resources are returned to the control of the people. Down to Earth salutes the reform movement and supports the forces for democracy and ecological justice in their struggle for a better future!

The fall of Suharto is a turning point in the history of Indonesia. The dictator, his family and friends whose stranglehold on economic and political life led the country into financial collapse and environmental catastrophe are finally being called to account. This has been achieved by the overwhelming force of opposition - students, academics, former members of Suharto's own government - coupled with economic hardship which fuelled mass anger against the regime in cities across the archipelago.

The replacement of Suharto by his former crony B. J. Habibie and his new friends is not sufficient. There is an urgent need for complete reform of the whole political and economic system in Indonesia as the people demand the right to determine their own futures. Far-reaching reforms of Indonesia's constitution, laws, institutions and policies are needed to dismantle the whole apparatus of the Suharto era and pave the way for democratic government. The principles of democracy, equity and sustainability are the key to Indonesia's future. Recent events clearly illustrate that environment and development are not peripheral issues to the country's economics and politics. Indonesia's economic collapse, the food crisis and forest fires are all linked. Its 'economic miracle' was based on cheap labour, stolen land and the ruthless exploitation of its rich natural resources. Systematic corruption and nepotism by Suharto's New Order regime has made a small elite fabulously wealthy, leaving tens of millions of poor Indonesians to pay the real price. The indigenous peoples of the forested 'outer islands' are having to bear the burden of unsustainable policies promoted in the name of 'development'. For millions of Indonesians, the removal of Suharto has made little difference. Food prices are higher than ever and the impact of the severe drought and worst ever forest fires continue. Getting rid of Suharto was an important, but only initial step in a long, hard climb towards a better Indonesia.

The aim should now be to secure long term prosperity for the majority. The rights of Indonesia's millions of rural poor and indigenous people must be recognised and protected. The true value of the rich but fragile resource base which provides hundreds of millions of Indonesians with their daily needs must be realised.

The door to opportunity has been forced open after being bolted tight for over three decades. As we at Down to Earth try to take stock of the momentous changes in Indonesia, organisations in Indonesia are beginning to forge new political alliances and to set down in more detail their demands for reform. Many of these demands are not new, as NGOs and others have been calling for change for many years. The difference now is that there is an opportunity for them to be heard and taken on by the decision-makers in Indonesia and abroad who will help shape Indonesia's future. Below we have put together the demands that people in Indonesia and those supporting reform abroad have been putting forward. We believe these must be at the heart of socially just and environmentally sound government in Indonesia.


A charter for change

For democracy and ecological justice to take root in Indonesia, military involvement in government and political life must end. Government based on military might, political repression and terror must stop. Legal reform and the creation of an independent judiciary are essential to make legal protection enforceable and abuse of human rights and the environment punishable. Censorship must be lifted to ensure open public debate. Communities and organisations representing their interests should be free to defend their rights without fear of intimidation, torture or other reprisals.

Democratic reforms must reach the local communities: including the rural and urban poor, indigenous peoples, transmigrants and settlers. They should be given the right to determine their own futures and participate in policies and controls. Government, the public and private (Indonesian and foreign) investors, including 'development aid' must be made more accountable to the people. New mechanisms to act as checks on abuse of power must be introduced to ensure transparency, participation and joint responsibility. There must be greater regional and local autonomy.

The environment should not be seen as a commodity which can be exploited infinitely without costs. It must no longer be treated as a peripheral concern secondary to the interests of domestic and international capital. Instead it must be put at the very centre of government and policy-making, to ensure that resources are used fairly and wisely for the sake of present and future generations. The approach to resource management should no longer be sectoral but holistic, recognising the interdependence of the seas, forests, non-forested lands and centres of population.

The development model which has prevailed for the last thirty years must be thrown out. Its basis in resource exploitation has led to forest destruction, depletion of fish stocks, damage to coral reefs and mangroves on an alarming scale. It has destroyed the resources of local communities who depend upon them, has led to cultural disintegration, poverty and debt-slavery. The forests and the seas should no longer be 'mined' by government or commercial enterprises which seek profit before sustainability. This has led to environmental catastrophe and human tragedy.

International development banks and foreign governments should realign their lending with the aim of putting sustainable resource management at the centre of development policy. Poverty alleviation, the protection of human rights and wise resource management, along with the clear objective of reduced indebtedness must take precedence over the interests of the international business community. For the same reasons, economic activity, including plantations and agribusiness, which serves the export market should no longer be promoted where it deprives people the opportunity of growing food crops. This is urgent now, as food shortages are severe in many areas.

Bilateral and multilateral lending, or development aid agencies should promote and support small-scale projects which are controlled by the local community. They should avoid creating further debt-dependency and should reject inappropriate projects. They should stop promoting the development of large-scale commercial projects geared toward export markets which depend upon cheap labour and unsustainable resource use.

The importance of land rights is paramount and laws affecting land rights need to be reformed as a matter or urgency. Full rights over traditional (adat) lands held by indigenous peoples must be recognised, including forest lands used by local communities as integral parts of their economies. Community resource rights should no longer be subordinated to the needs of large-scale commercial ventures or government programmes (logging, mining and plantation companies, transmigration sites etc.). Rural communities and indigenous peoples as well as city-dwellers should no longer be forced to give up their lands and livelihoods for government or private projects. Instead they should retain the right to veto any intrusion onto their lands. Land disputes should be settled by independent arbitration and without the intervention of the military authorities.

Rights to manage and have access to natural resources should be restored to the people. The conversion of natural forest into large-scale commercial plantations for paper pulp, oil palm and other export market crops should stop as these are unsustainable both economically and ecologically. Democracy at the local level should be fostered to support the development of community-based natural resource management. Laws on forestry and mining should be reformed to restore rights and control over resources to local communities. The government should arrange to pay compensation for lands appropriated unfairly and to rehabilitate land and forests damaged in the name of development. Marine tenure rights should be established which secure fisherfolk control of coastal fisheries.

The rights of Indonesia's indigenous peoples must be recognised and all policies aimed at 'civilising' or assimilating them to a perceived national norm immediately stopped. Their right to their own identities, cultures and religions as well as lands and resources should be recognised under the law. Intellectual property rights should also be protected as a matter of urgency. The forcible eviction of indigenous people for transmigration schemes, mines, logging and plantation projects which has characterised the Suharto era must cease. The government of Indonesia should ratify ILO Convention 169 Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries and endorse the UN Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The government should call a halt to the transmigration programme which causes forest destruction, brings communities into conflict over land and resources and in many cases impoverishes the transmigrants themselves. It should take steps to settle the injustices this programme has brought to transmigrant families and local communities over the years.

The Indonesian government should cancel inappropriate and over-ambitious mega-projects which destroy biodiversity, displace local communities and pollute the water courses on which millions depend. Recent examples are the Central Kalimantan peat forest conversion project and the West Papua Mamberamo River dam/agro-industrial mega-project. Instead it should investigate and promote small-scale decentralised resource management projects devised with and controlled by local communities.

Foreign companies investing or working in Indonesia must be fully transparent in all their activities. Until now many investors have regarded Indonesia as a place where land and labour is cheap, environmental control is lax and access to resources is facilitated by an authoritarian government which deals with any resistance from local populations. These 'attractions' have until now far outweighed the disadvantages of red tape and costly corruption. These companies must restore credibility to customers and shareholders by changing these abusive practices. They should adhere to internationally accepted standards on human rights, environmental pollution and labour conditions. Legislation should be revised and regulatory capacity enhanced to oblige companies to adhere to these standards.

Energy policy should be based on wise use of available resources. Nuclear power should be ruled out as expensive, undemocratic and creating waste problems for future generations. Current mining projects are large in scale, and geared toward the export market: they benefit few Indonesians, give rise to human rights and environmental abuse and are unsustainable. Large dams under undemocratic government lead likewise to violation of human rights and the environment. Energy policy should move toward smaller scale projects controlled by local communities aimed at serving their basic needs. It should encourage the use of and research into clean and sustainable energy resource development.

The right openly to discuss and negotiate greater autonomy or self-determination should be recognised for the people of West Papua. Military terror against people raising these issues will solve nothing and must be stopped. The violations of human rights perpetrated by forces protecting mining interests must end.

In East Timor, the people must be allowed to represent themselves in the UN-sponsored negotiations and their right to self-determination must be recognised and implemented. The East Timorese people's rights over the oil reserves of the Timor Gap and to benefit from the proceeds of their exploitation must be ensured.