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Jakarta Post

Indigenous peoples and the World Economic Forum

  • Abdon Nababan

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, April 17, 2015   /  07:27 am

Indonesia will host the East Asian Regional World Economic Forum (WEF) from April 19 to 21. The economy of our country has clearly strengthened and we are increasingly recognized in the eyes of the world so as to be entrusted to host such a big event.

But despite our strong economy, behind the luxuries we still have many problems in our own backyard. One of our biggest challenges is the fulfillment, if not neglect, of the rights of indigenous peoples.

In our mass media, news of the suffering experienced by the Orang Rimba communities in Jambi is familiar. Their rights are ignored and violated. The Orang Rimba tribe is a community spiritually and culturally bound to their landscape.

Since the 1980s their forest habitat has been increasingly narrowed. In the past when Forest Concessions Rights (HPH) were introduced, this problem was not immediately felt as there was no forest land clearing, but only selective cutting.

Once the cutting was completed, the areas would be turned into oil palm plantations and Industrial Plantation Forests (HTI). This industry cuts down the entire forest then replants it with trees to make paper.

As a result, the indigenous people, who live from the forest, experience food crises, which have led to health vulnerabilities.

Their medicines in the forest are no longer available to respond to diseases. The food crisis thus poses a health crisis. This is what caused the death of 12 Orang Rimba in recent months.

The deaths tarnished the history of the fulfillment of rights of indigenous peoples, which once was fought for by former president Abdurrahman '€œGus Dur'€ Wahid.

In 2001, then president Gus Dur granted national park status to the Orang Rimba range forest area in order to provide them a living space.

But the situation has since been reversed. Their areas are now occupied by dozens of industrial plantation forest companies and oil palm plantations. If this is not remedied more casualties will arise in a few months.

The Ministry of Social Affairs is perceptive enough to answer the crisis by visiting the Orang Rimba and introducing countermeasures in the field.

However, the fundamental problems still need to be answered. Forests need to be rehabilitated and forest enterprise licenses need to be readjusted so that the Orang Rimba have sufficient living space.

The crisis threatening the Orang Rimba is an example of the problems characterizing indigenous communities in Indonesia. It is the dark side behind the glitter of Indonesia'€™s economic progress.

Investing for indigenous peoples in the WEF is essentially a forum of chief executive officers (CEOs), businessmen and economists.

They will gather to discuss how to maintain their businesses and profitability, but the WEF in Davos late last year also gave considerable attention to the issues of food and energy, because the companies involved in food and energy are in crisis.

The big companies that require large tracts of land to produce food face considerable conflicts on the land. They are on numerous occasions accused of serious human rights violations.

Their business and investments at certain levels have been disturbed so that they are now forced to discuss fundamental issues of food and energy.

In January of this year, I had the honor as the first indigenous leader at the national level to speak at the WEF Davos forum.

I discussed the situation of indigenous peoples in Indonesia, detailing numerous conflicts in the field and the widespread destruction of forests, all of which have had a negative impact on the lives of indigenous peoples.

In Davos, too, I shared ideas on how to transform the Indonesian economy. The key is no further expropriation of indigenous lands, no further eviction of people from their lands and no more conflict.

Nawacita, the President'€™s nine priorities, highlights the need for protection of people'€™s lands, especially indigenous peoples. It even emphasizes that the government is committed to continuing the moratorium on granting new forest use licenses. Indigenous peoples need to be protected.

So starting now, every new investment should consider the rights of the indigenous peoples.

This will also benefit the businessman since their investment will be more secure if violations of the rights of indigenous peoples are absent.

Transformation of the oil palm industry should also refer to Nawacita commitments: people-based economy, recognition and protection of indigenous peoples'€™ territorial rights and effective
local governance, corruption eradication and a moratorium on new licenses until the One Map policies are in place.

Production increases in the palm oil industry should not only happen in company plantations, but also within people'€™s agroforestry areas.

To boost production nationally there should be a program developed and managed in a systematic, structured and massive way.

It must ensure a bio-regional approach to the development of the palm oil industry in Indonesia.

In this case there should be no more expansion of palm monoculture plantations at the expense of the natural landscape.

In this approach, production increases are obtained based on recognition of the land rights of indigenous peoples through BUMMA (enterprises owned by indigenous communities).

I think the commitment of the WEF sticks to food and energy industries and the East Asian WEF in Jakarta will continue to explore these issues.

The new government was only formed in October last year. Nevertheless, with the Nawacita commitment, which includes recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples, there should be no reason not to take swift action to protect the rights of the Orang Rimba.

The late Gus Dur taught us a lesson in this regard. What made him different from other leaders was that if he found rules that did not make sense he did not hesitate to push through reforms.

There should be a national policy to prevent new conflicts and at the same time resolve and reduce land conflicts.

In this case the current land allocation system of licensing must be rationalized to prevent the licensing of land cover change from harming indigenous lands.

There should be no more expansion of palm monoculture plantations at the expense of the natural landscape.

The writer is secretary-general of the Alliance of Indigenous Peoples'€™ of the Archipelago (AMAN).

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