The Jakarta Post
Lawyer Handoko Wibowo was presented with the prestigious human rights Yap Thiam Hien Award late on Thursday for his work with local farmers in Central Java. His Omah Tani (house for farmers) in Batang has attracted farmers from far and wide seeking to learn how to deal with disputes affecting their livelihoods. With Handoko's consultation and training on their legal rights, farmers are able to maintain their dignity when negotiating with different parties, Handoko said.
However, the award also focuses the spotlight on various land conflicts, which the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) has stated, continuously rank among the top issues of rights violations reported.
Only a few hundred cases have been resolved among thousands that have come before the courts. Complications increase when police and military personnel are implicated, often where businesses are in conflict with local landowners.
Overlapping regulations and political interests contribute to many a tangled and protracted dispute, frequently leading to violence and fatalities. Komnas HAM says almost 75 percent of land conflicts 'are caused by the same businesspeople', reflecting the glaring gap in access to land. Ahead of local elections, land becomes a political commodity and elected leaders have been found issuing various land-use permits to campaign donors.
For indigenous people, hopes emerged following a 2013 Constitutional Court ruling that their customary forests should not be classed as state forest. Statistics in 2012 showed some 32,000 villages overlapping with what the government called state forest. Unsurprisingly, reports have surfaced of locals being persecuted for farming on land they claim as their own.
Following the court's ruling, last year the Environment and Forestry Ministry issued a regulation to reallocate up to 30 percent of industrial forests and forest concession areas to indigenous owners. Residents however still report difficulties in the regulation's implementation, some relating to the significant role of local authorities in 'reallocating' the land.
Conflicts get increasingly ugly when disputes involve local people against migrants, where contests over the precious resource of land are overshadowed and blown up into issues of race, ethnicity and differences in beliefs. Land issues then become increasingly hidden in communal conflicts that attract media attention.
Last December the government announced a one-map policy as part of its reforms, continuing on from efforts by the previous administration to make land ownership more transparent by harmonizing all maps of spatial planning and land use. This measure should result in clear references for land use concessions and reduce potential disputes.
Better coordination is still needed within the government bodies in charge of land and forests, who are also working with the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) to prevent and track abuse of concessions.
No single local organization or lawyer can single-handedly resolve protracted land disputes. Regarding one such dispute, one man told a public hearing, 'I cannot sing 'Indonesia Raya' [the national anthem],' as the lyrics referred to 'the land where my blood is shed ['¦], where I stand' he said, 'for I have no land to stand on.'