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Jakarta Post

Red tape blocks customary land

  • Hans Nicholas Jong

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, November 5, 2015   /  05:05 pm

Two years after a landmark ruling in 2013 by the Constitutional Court on the 1999 Forestry Law that invalidated the government'€™s claim to customary forests, red tape continues to block indigenous peoples'€™ access to their land.

The Association for Community and Ecology-Based Law Reform (HuMa) said on Wednesday that not a single customary forest had been declared by the government to be the property of the indigenous community following the landmark ruling, which should give hope to indigenous people whose rights had been denied for decades by the government in favor of large plantation and mining companies.

'€œIf we'€™re talking about an official customary forest in accordance to the ministerial regulation that has just been issued, then there'€™s none because only the Environment and Forestry Ministry can declare an area a customary forest,'€ HuMa advocate and campaign head Sisilia Nurmala Dewi said on Wednesday.

She attributed the lack of progress to Article 67 of the 1999 Forestry Law, which states that only regional governments can grant the recognition of customary forests to indigenous communities through local bylaws.

For a regency administration to issue a bylaw, it has to make sure that the indigenous people have been living in the area for a long time and that the customary land truly exists, among other things.

'€œTherefore, it'€™s a bureaucratic nightmare,'€ Sisilia said. '€œAnd there'€™s also a lack of political will [among regional governments].'€

Until now, the only customary land that has been recognized by a local government in a bylaw is located in Morowali, Central Sulawesi.

However, the 20,000-hectare customary land was not recognized by the Environment and Forestry Ministry, Sisilia said.

'€œThe director-general [of social and partnership forestry, Hadi Daryanto] himself said that the area was too vast [to be declared customary land], not to mention that the status is that of a public forest,'€ she said.

The government plans to redistribute 12.7 million hectares of social forests from 2015 until 2019 to deal with rampant land disputes involving indigenous communities.

The ministry said that the government had 36.6 million hectares of forest that could potentially be handed over to indigenous people as social forests.

Sisilia argued that the government appeared to be more focused on declaring other types of social forests, such as village forests, because the government had more control over those kinds of forests.

'€œIf an area is declared a customary forest, the Environment and Forestry Ministry will no longer be able to give recommendations to issue borrow-to-use permits,'€ she said.

The government was scheduled to declare at least one customary forest in Jambi later this year, Sisilia said.

'€œIt'€™s located in Merangin regency, where Serampas people live. It'€™s only because the local regent already declared it a customary forest,'€ she said. '€œIn this case, the decree could just be upgraded through another decree by the Environment and Forestry Ministry in order for the customary forest to be recognized.'€

Rosa Vivien Ratnawati, the director of tenurial and customary land conflict at the directorate-general, said that the government was working hard to provide recognition for indigenous people.

'€œYes we are currently validating and verifying for customary land recognition in Merangin Regency and Kerinci Regency,'€ she told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

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