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Indonesia: Declaration on Rights of Indigenous People to Forests

(Apr 29, 2015) On April 18, 2015, Indonesia’s Minister of the Environment and Forestry, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, issued the “Mataram Declaration,” named after the capital of the province of West Nusa Tenggara. The Declaration is part of the government’s response to a May 2013 ruling of the Constitutional Court giving indigenous groups control of forested areas in which they live; that decision amounted to a relinquishment of state claims to those areas. (Kennial Caroline Laia, In Mataram Declaration, Belated Recognition of Indigenous Rights, JAKARTA GLOBE (Apr. 23, 2015); Decision of the Constitutional Court 35/PUU-X/2012 (May 16, 2013) Constitutional Court website [in Indonesian]; Constance Johnson, Indonesia: Forest Rights of Indigenous Peoples Affirmed, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (June 3, 2013).)

Government Plans

Bakar noted that Indonesia is making efforts to involve stakeholders, especially indigenous groups, in crafting policies to improve environmental protection and help local communities. “These policies are really important. … President Joko Widodo’s government has indicated that the citizenship concept is a democratic one, in which we seek to bring welfare to the people,” she stated. (Kennial Caroline Laia, supra.)

Indonesia has a 2015-2019 Mid-Term Development Plan under which nine million hectares of land will be set aside for agriculture and 12.5 million hectares will be labeled for “social forestry.” The agricultural land would be taken from former logging concessions and be cultivated largely by subsistence farmers. The forestry areas would be used by indigenous groups and local communities for sustainable forestry. (Id.) Bakar added that “the system will be no longer like the past, when government didn’t put the people at the front of its development plans. Now, we must use dialogue in our approach to developing the economy of this country.” (Id.)

Reaction of NGOs

Groups working to promote the rights of the indigenous population are pleased with the Declaration’s recognition of the important role local people play in caring for the forests and stopping deforestation. Abetnego Tarigan, the Executive Director of the non-governmental group Walhi (Indonesian Forum for the Environment), stated: “[l]ong before this, civil society organizations and local communities were struggling for the recognition and protection of customary land. … Now the government has shown good faith, and we really appreciate it.” (Id.) He also discussed the history of violation of indigenous peoples’ land rights by the local and central governments, with land taken for logging, mining, and plantations. He added:

There are a few policies that regulate the rights of local communities to the land, such as the 2012 law on customary forests, but they don’t cover the recognition of people’s customary territory, so we need another framework to guarantee it. … This declaration should really be a form of political will for all stakeholders to push the recognition and protection of customary forests managed by the people. (Id.)