Jokowi renews promises to forest people

Jokowi renews promises to forest people
PHOTO: Reuters

As part of his commitment to protecting traditional groups, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo met the Indigenous People's Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) on Thursday to discuss key issues relating to land conflicts and oppression of forest communities.

The alliance made several suggestions of steps the President might take.

"Indigenous people are facing agrarian conflicts and discrimination related to development. If the government does not get to the root of these problems, then the priorities of the President, whether national infrastructure, food, energy or the maritime axis, will be jeopardized, since much development occurs on indigenous land," AMAN secretary-general Abdon Nababan said after meeting Jokowi at the State Palace in Jakarta.

AMAN has a nationwide network of around 2,253 indigenous groups who mostly live in or around forests.

Jokowi is, according to Abdon, aware of the magnitude of the challenges facing forest tribes, as many concessions for mining and plantations are allocated on customary land belonging to indigenous peoples, with the President citing 800 conflicts in Kalimantan alone.

"Jokowi mentioned the process of ratifying the indigenous people's rights acknowledgement and protection [PPHMA] bill," Abdon said, adding that the President had vowed to prioritize the bill.

The PPHMA bill, proposed by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) in 2012, is aimed at providing a stronger legal basis for the settlement of customary-land disputes in the country. It covers the definition of an indigenous community and a much-needed procedure to settle customary-land disputes.

Despite the bill being among the House of Representatives' 66 priority bills in 2014, lawmakers failed to pass it into law, blaming the government's lack of commitment for the sluggish progress.

Jokowi had failed to touch on the bill's exclusion from the 2015 National Legislation Program (Prolegnas), Abdon claimed.

He said that Jokowi had, however, agreed to grant clemency to 166 jailed agrarian activists, following the President's move to grant clemency to activist Eva Susanti Bande late last year.

Other AMAN recommendations include the establishment of a task force aimed at protecting the rights of indigenous people and preserving their customary lands.

"He saw no problem with the proposal and said it would be followed up soon. He specifically mentioned Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya, and Ibu Siti said that she was up to the task," said Abdon.

Jokowi also vowed to issue a presidential instruction (Inpres) as a follow-up to the Constitutional Court's historic 2013 ruling that customary forests were not state-owned, as previously thought, but belonged to local indigenous people.

Jokowi has also said he will include the government's commitment on indigenous people in the country's national emission reduction target - the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) - to be submitted ahead of December's UN climate conference in Paris.

"Besides our REDD+ budget, he will use his commitment to indigenous people to increase the quota of our INDC," said Wimar Witoelar, then president Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid's spokesman, who also attended the meeting.

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