Indonesian tribes rally for land rights

Fearing extinction, tribes in Indonesia call on the government to protect their land rights.

Many tribal Indonesians do not have a formal title to the land their families have lived on for generations. [ATAR Agency/AFP]

Thousands of tribal Indonesians gathered on Sumatra, urging President Joko Widodo to protect their land rights.

On Friday, more than 5,000 people from 2,000 tribal communities convened in Tanjung Gusta village outside North Sumatra’s provincial capital Medan.

The gathering is organised by the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago and held every five years.

“We’ll fight for our rights to the last drop of our blood,” said Abdon Nababan, the secretary-general of the alliance at the conference.

Indonesia’s environment and forestry minister reiterated on Friday the government’s commitment to tribal rights.

“It was only a start and not the end of this struggle,” Siti Nurbaya Bakar told the gathering, referring to the December announcement to return customary lands.

Indonesia is home to an estimated 50-70 million tribal people, but many do not have formal title to the land their families have lived on for generations.

The alliance says more than 8.2 million hectares of forest belongs to the nation’s myriad tribal groups, but Joko’s government has so far only granted a total of 13,122 hectares to nine communities.

For decades they have been locked in bitter battles with logging, palm oil and mining companies that have been expanding into their homelands in the resource-rich Southeast Asian nation.

READ MORE: Four Indonesians richer than poorest 100 million

Widodo has pledged to improve their lives, but activists say his ambitious plans to boost infrastructure and energy production, including building dams, means that more tribes are at risk of being displaced.

“Even though the government has nice policies on paper, we continue to face land grabs … and forced evictions throughout Indonesia,” said Rukka Sombolinggi, deputy head of the alliance.

“We are willing to share, but development has to be done with our consent,” she said.

Indonesia’s Constitutional Court ruled in 2013 that the tribes have the right to manage forests where they live, in a verdict hailed as a victory for tribal land rights.

The government last December announced that it would return 13,000 hectares of customary lands to nine tribal communities, and committed to giving back a total of 12.7 million hectares – roughly the size of Greece – to local and tribal groups.

The alliance says more than 8.2 million hectares of forest belongs to tribal groups [Antara Foto/Reuters]

More than 230 tribal leaders and activists are currently on trial for battling to save their homelands, while at least six tribes face the threat of extinction as a result of land conflicts, said campaigner Sombolinggi, of the Sulawesi island’s Toraja tribe,

“Our livelihood and our existence are being affected. When we are evicted from our land, what else do we have?” she asked.

Studies to be presented at the World Bank’s 18th Annual Land and Poverty Conference in Washington, DC, next week confirm tribal leaders’ claims that local communities are best-equipped to protect forests around the globe, the indigenous congress’ organisers said.

One study suggests that carbon-rich peat lands that have been ravaged by annual forest fires in Indonesia could be saved if the government gives greater forest rights to local communities

“The findings suggest that granting communal land rights to indigenous inhabitants of tropical forests is among the most underused and effective solutions to combating violence, poverty and the illegal deforestation that fuels climate change,” they said in a statement.

Source: News agencies

This entry was posted in Human rights - Nhân quyền, Indonesia, RIght to own properties - Quyền sở hữu tài sản and tagged , , by Trần Đình Hoành. Bookmark the permalink.

About Trần Đình Hoành

I am an attorney in the Washington DC area, with a Doctor of Law in the US, attended the master program at the National School of Administration of Việt Nam, and graduated from Sài Gòn University Law School. I aso studied philosophy at the School of Letters in Sài Gòn. I have worked as an anti-trust attorney for Federal Trade Commission and a litigator for a fortune-100 telecom company in Washington DC. I have taught law courses for legal professionals in Việt Nam and still counsel VN government agencies on legal matters. I have founded and managed businesses for me and my family, both law and non-law. I have published many articles on national newspapers and radio stations in Việt Nam. In 1989 I was one of the founding members of US-VN Trade Council, working to re-establish US-VN relationship. Since the early 90's, I have established and managed VNFORUM and VNBIZ forum on VN-related matters; these forums are the subject of a PhD thesis by Dr. Caroline Valverde at UC-Berkeley and her book Transnationalizing Viet Nam. I translate poetry and my translation of "A Request at Đồng Lộc Cemetery" is now engraved on a stone memorial at Đồng Lộc National Shrine in VN. I study and teach the Bible and Buddhism. In 2009 I founded and still manage on positive thinking and two other blogs on Buddhism. In 2015 a group of friends and I founded website CVD - Conversations on Vietnam Development ( I study the art of leadership with many friends who are religious, business and government leaders from many countries. In October 2011 Phu Nu Publishing House in Hanoi published my book "Positive Thinking to Change Your Life", in Vietnamese (TƯ DUY TÍCH CỰC Thay Đổi Cuộc Sống). In December 2013 Phu Nu Publishing House published my book "10 Core Values for Success". I practice Jiu Jitsu and Tai Chi for health, and play guitar as a hobby, usually accompanying my wife Trần Lê Túy Phượng, aka singer Linh Phượng.

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