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Indonesia indigenous communities fear eviction amid investment push as rights bill remains on back burner

The Jakarta Post Mon, December 16, 2019

On the edge: A family of the Orang Rimba tribe lives in a flimsy hut deep in the jungle of Jambi. The Indigenous People’s Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) said indigenous people in Indonesia often suffered discrimination and human rights violations by the government, especially regarding land disputes. . ( D.Nugroho)

JAKARTA, Indonesia -It has been more than 15 years since the House of Representatives officially proposed a bill on the legal protection of indigenous people. However, lawmakers have been unable to begin deliberations, as the government has not submitted its assessment of the bill.

The government’s reluctance to submit its assessment has meant the deliberation of the bill has been put hold, leaving indigenous people vulnerable to eviction as President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo seeks to attract foreign investment, including into the extractive sector.

The bill, which has been included on the list of 34 bills in the National Legislative Program (Prolegnas) for 2020, would provide recognition of the customary laws of indigenous communities in certain matters, such as the management of natural resources and the distribution of inherited land.

The bill would also provide indigenous communities with assurances they would not be evicted from their land.

Secretary general of the Indigenous People’s Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) Rukka Sombolinggi said she believed increased direct investment would result in increased demand for land.

She expressed concern the government’s ambitions would result in indigenous people being evicted from their lands, as demand for land would result in encroachment into indigenous settlements.

According to Article 18B of the 1945 Constitution, the government is prohibited from confiscating the land of indigenous communities as the country is obliged to respect their customary laws.

“As the government leans toward pro-investment policies, the enactment of the bill [on the protection of indigenous people] is very important,” Rukka told reporters on Dec. 9.

She also lamented President Jokowi’s repeated calls for state officials to boost investment.

She claimed Jokowi had once told local administrations to “close their eyes” when issuing permits to investors, which she said indicated that the government would do anything to attract investment, including ignoring the rights of indigenous people.

“These kinds of statements highlight the threats indigenous people will face in the future,” she said.

Meanwhile, NasDem Party legislator Sulaeman M. Hamzah said that lawmakers had been attempting to pass the bill into law since 2013. However, he said they were unable to do so as the government had not submitted a problem inventory list (DIM) to the House.

The DIM, he added, was urgently needed, as it would determine whether the bill could be deliberated by the House’s Legislation Body (Baleg), as stipulated in Law No. 12/2011.

As the bill is included in the 2020 Prolegnas, lawmakers will push the government to submit the DIM before the end of the year so deliberations of the law can begin in January.

“Lobbying the government will be tough. However, we hope it will send us the DIM so we can begin deliberations in the Baleg as soon as possible,” Sulaeman said.

He added that legislators had pushed the government to expedite the submission of the DIM list since the bill was included in 2017 Prolegnas.

Their efforts resulted in the issuance of a presidential letter (supres) by President Jokowi on March 9, 2018, in which he instructed his subordinates to set up a special task force to help related ministries construct the law.

However, the government failed to submit the long awaited DIM.

If the government again fails to submit a DIM, lawmakers will ask a coalition of 15 NGOs that have advocated for the bill to construct its own problem inventory list to help lawmakers draft the law.

“We promise deliberations of the bill will not be delayed any longer, as it has been included in next year’s Prolegnas,” he said.

Environment and Forestry Ministry officials did not respond to The Jakarta Post’s request for comment.

Rahma Mary, a representative of the NGO coalition, said the NGOs were more than ready to provide input for the drafting of the law.

Rahma, who works with the Foundation of the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute (YLBHI), said the NGO coalition had gathered information from many indigenous communities to understand their needs more thoroughly.

The findings were presented to the Office of the Presidential Chief of Staff (KSP) in September 2018 in the hope it would inform the drafting of the bill.

The coalition also held a public hearing with the Baleg later the same month to convey the results of the meeting with the KSP.

Based on the coalition’s research, Rahma believed the coalition was better informed and could provide a better problem inventory list than the government.

“We visited the indigenous communities and listened to their aspirations, so we should be involved in the decision making process as the lawmakers and the government have never actually visited them,” she said.

She added that one of the most important issues was to provide indigenous people with certainty they would be able to maintain their traditional methods of managing their natural resources, as they had often faced criminal prosecution for implementing customary law in the cultivation their own land.

According to YLBHI’s data, 43 criminal cases have been brought against indigenous people this year, most of which relate to illegal logging and the use of fire to clear land.

At times, indigenous communities have also faced disputes with private sector actors that have sought to develop land.

“They are at risk of having their customary laws criminalized. If the government promises to protect investors’ interests, then it should accommodate the rights of indigenous people first,” she said. (glh)

From: THE JAKARTA POST (INDONESIA) Mon, December 16, 2019

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