Plantation companies in conflict with villagers

Plantation companies in conflict with villagers

The Jakarta Post

The palm oil industry has sparked controversy over environmental issues, as well as concerns over security.

The National Commission on Human Rights has received 10 cases of conflict related to oil palm plantations this year, while the environment ministry has received 56 environmental cases in 2009.

M. Zoel Fachry, the ministry's deputy assistant, said cases of land disputes between oil palm plantations or mining companies and indigenous people were not uncommon across the country.

„Complaints from indigenous people against oil palm firms have continued to rise in recent years," he said.

Sawit Watch researcher Norman Jiwan said this kind of case was typically found across Kalimantan and Sumatra.

„In Riau, there are places where conflicts between indigenous people and plantations have been waged for the past 15 years," he said Monday.

„The problem is not only the large scale of this robbery [of forests], but the systematic rate at which it occurs," he said. „What I fear is that it has come to the state where these problems over palm oil have become a regular occurrence," he said.

He added the case of Langkai in Telawan district, Central Kalimantan, was just one of many cases where natives were trying to defend their rights.

„The country can be very proud of being the biggest producer of crude palm oil, but are the indigenous people allowed to have their say in this business? Have they been asked permission for the use of their land?"

He warned that anger over the companies' lack of respect for local cultures could boil over, as had previously occurred.

„It's just like the conflict between the indigenous Sampit people and Madura migrants," Norman said, referring to the Sampit tragedy of early 2001, when hundreds of people were killed in ethnic clashes between Kalimantan-native Dayaks and migrants from Madura Island in East Java.

He added the potential for social unrest was already there.

In 2007, along with other local NGOs, Sawit Watch took the matter to the UN, seeking its intervention into the violation of the rights of the indigenous people of Kalimantan. „We requested the UN's help to eliminate racial discrimination and prevent social conflicts," he said.

In a statement made public on March 18, 2009, the UN's Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination strongly criticized Indonesia for failing to respect indigenous peoples' rights in relation to oil palm plantations.

Sawit Watch has, until mid 2007, registered 500 cases of communities facing encroachment upon their lands by oil palm companies.

There are about 1,000 oil palm companies currently operating in the country, with total plantations of up to 7.5 million hectares, according to Sawit Watch. „For years, indigenous people have been losing their civil rights, and also their economical, social and cultural rights," Norman said. (iwp)