Murder of Jambi Man Renews Call for Land Rights, Security

Supporters have rallied behind Indigenous groups fighting for land rights. (Antara Photo/Zabur Karuru)

By : Kennial Caroline Laia | on 10:15 PM March 08, 2015
Category : News, Crime, Featured, Human Rights

Malinau, North Kalimantan. The recent death of a farmer in Sumatra's Jambi province has highlighted the need to address land conflicts often interwoven with rampant deforestation in Indonesia.

Indra Pelani, 22, a member of the local Sugarcane Farmers Union (STT), died late last month after being beaten by security officers hired by Wirakarya Sakti, a subsidiary of paper giant Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), as he attempted to pass through a checkpoint near an acacia plantation run by the company, police have said.

Indra's alleged assailants surrendered themselves to Jambi Police last week.

The incident has prompted international environmental group Greenpeace to suspend cooperation with APP, according to Agence France-Presse.

The green group had once been one of the strongest critics of APP, accusing it of destroying vast swaths of carbon-rich forests that are home to endangered species such as Sumatran orangutans and tigers. But following APP's announcement two years ago that it would stop using any logs from Indonesia's natural forests, Greenpeace had been supporting the company's efforts.

However, Bustar Maitar, the head of Greenpeace's Indonesia forest campaign, told AFP last week that the group was temporarily withdrawing support for the company's initiatives on forest conservation after Indra's death.

APP said in a statement that it had ordered Wirakarya Sakti to suspend all personnel allegedly involved in the incident.

"We condemn violence and we support Greenpeace's decision to focus its efforts on this issue," it said, adding that efforts would be made "to ensure that justice is done."

STT had been involved in a long-running conflict with Wirakarya over the ownership of 2,000 hectares of land in Jambi prior to last month's incident.

In 2010 and 2012, two other farmers were killed Jambi and Riau under similar circumstances — also amid conflicts with APP suppliers.

"APP must take immediate action to ensure that this is fully and fairly investigated by the authorities with full and unconditional cooperation from the company," Bustar was quoted as saying by last week.

"APP must also launch a full investigation of security procedures and its contractors to ensure such incidents never happen again," he added.

Food and water crises

Separately, Jambi's Social Services Office has reported that 11 members of indigenous tribes in Batang Hari and Sarolangun districts had died over the past month due to starvation, amid food and clean water crises plaguing the region.

The coordinator of the Indonesian Conservation Community (KKI), Sukmareni, said the crises had been triggered by an increasing rate of land conversions for plantation use in the area.

Indigenous people, who depend on resources provided by the forests, have been increasingly losing their source of food due to rapid growth of monocultural plantations in the areas.

Zenzi Suhadi of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) says the series of deaths due to land conflicts and deforestation should serve as a wake-up call for the government to urgently address the matter.

"This is urgent. We don't want any other people to fall victim. The government must quickly take action in response to this," he said, adding that the government had been turning a blind eye toward land conflicts for decades.

"People must understand their rights. Indra's and other victims' deaths should be a signal for us to help them demand the government uphold their rights."

'Participatory mapping'

An indigenous community in North Kalimantan, however, has not had to wait for the government to protect its forests from exploitation. In 2012, the residents of Punan Adiu village in Malinau district found a way to protect their forests through what is called "participatory mapping."

The mapping allows them to draw strict lines around their customary forests, which in turn allows them to register the forests with the local administration for protection.

"The forest is our home. No one should ever take it from us," says Markus Ilun, the community head of Punan Adiu village.

Punan Adiu, home to 121 people, is surrounded by a swath of 17,400 hectares of virgin tropical forest.

The village is a two-hour drive from the capital of Malinau, but the remoteness of the location has not discouraged corporations from visiting the area to explore for more land to plant oil palms, Markus told the Jakarta Globe in his home village recently.

"In 2013, the subdistrict chief along with three corporate representatives came to our village to lure us to give over our land to be planted with palm trees. Those corporate representatives were introduced as businessmen who had been investing in oil palm plantations in Riau and Jambi districts [in Sumatra]," Markus said.

"We were told that we would get a large amount of money should we give them the land. But we don't want the money. We don't want other people to manage our forests. So we stood against the offer, although other villages near us have agreed to sell their lands to those corporations," he added.

The experience left Markus and his people worried; they feared they might lose their home soon.

That concern motivated Markus, who once visited plantations in Jambi, to consult a local NGO, Punan Watchdog and Empowerment of Malinau (LP3M), to help map their area along with the forests.

"I've visited places like Jambi. And what I've seen worries me. The forest is our home, a place where we turn to when we run out of food. Turning it into monoculture plantations would leave us, as well as our future generations, with nothing," he said. "That's why we initiated a plan to map our village and its surrounding areas, including the forests."

Customary forests

In 2013, the Constitutional Court partially granted a judicial review filed by the Alliance of the Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago (AMAN), who sought a revision to the 1999 Forestry Law.

AMAN holds the law responsible for the rapid degradation of indigenous forests in many areas in Indonesia.

The revised law stipulates that customary forests no longer belong to the state — that the state has its own forests and should not disturb indigenous forests.

LP3M chairman Boro Suban Nikolaus said the Constitutional Court's verdict, coupled with a local bylaw that regulates participatory mapping, allowed Punan Adiu villagers to protect their forests.

"To claim theirs as customary forests, a village must first conduct participatory mapping to identify their borders with other villages, along with their forests. That was what the Punan people did," he said. "We started the mapping in 2012 soon after the bylaw was issued. Coupled with the court ruling, our legal basis became even more complete."

The mapping took three years and included forest explorations, demarcations and negotiations.

Punan Adiu and LP3M collaborated with the Indonesian Paddy Community (IPC), Community Mapping Network (JKPP) and AMAN in carrying out the activities.

The final map was completed in January this year.

"The next step is to bring this map to the district head of Malinau. Should he agree, he will immediately issue a regional decree, with which Punan Adiu will obtain a legal umbrella to protect its forests," Boro said.

"Through our communications, the local government has shown a positive response. We really hope that the process will run smoothly; it will likely take six months," he added.

The bylaw also regulates the establishment of the Malinau Indigenous Affairs Supervisory Agency (BPUMA), among other things.

The agency will be tasked with verifying the authenticity of participatory mapping, and ensuring protection of the rights of the indigenous peoples of Malinau.

"We have drawn the map. We hope that the district head will approve of this," Markus said. "But the most important thing is, we know we are safe. Our forest is safe."

According to the Central Statistics Agency (BPS), 71 percent of Indonesian villagers rely on forest resources.

"It is really important for indigenous people to understand their rights and the law," said IPC chairman Akhmad Asyami. "We hope [Punan Adiu's] map will inspire other villages in Kalimantan and the rest of Indonesia, because we know many people depend on the forest."

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