The Indonesian Bishops Conference (KWI) to fight for indigenous land rights

KWI to fight for indigenous land rights

Source: Arghea Desafti Hapsari , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Mon, 02/01/2010

The Indonesian Bishops Conference (KWI - Kantor Waligereja Indonesia) has undertaken a new program to promote and protect the rights of indigenous people.

A public seminar was held Saturday to mark the beginning of KWI’s 6-month program aiming to advocate for the recovery of the people’s rights, particularly in Papua and Kalimantan. Other activities will include focus group discussions involving mass organizations, churches and indigenous people in the two areas. A national advocacy meeting is slated for June.

KWI chairman Mgr. Agustinus Agus said the national advocacy program aimed to improve public awareness of indigenous people’s true conditions.

“We also want to invite national and international bodies to support the struggle for peace and justice, and to restore the people’s rights,” Agustinus said.

The program would serve as a means to help the government solve ongoing problems in protecting the rights of indigenous people, Agustinus said.

Social Services Ministry data shows that there are 229,479 households of indigenous people living in 2,650 locations in 30 provinces across Indonesia.

The people of Kalimantan and Papua have witnessed the exploitation of the environments that support their livelihoods, Agustinus said.

West Kalimantan Dayakology Institute director John Bamba said the worst environmental exploitation in Kalimantan had been in its forests, where trees were cut down to be exported as logs and to make way for palm oil estates.

“The Dayaks [the indigenous people of Kalimantan] have been deprived of their rights to their customary land, which has been turned into property of plantation and mining companies,” he said.

“The country needs to recognize that this is wrong. The least that [the government] can do is to stop the expansion and fix these problems first,” he said, adding that land issues could be seeds of conflicts.

Neles Tebay of the Jayapura Archdiocese said the government needed to sit down with representatives of various groups in Papua to better understand the factors that have been threatening the livelihoods of Papuans, and to seek solutions to security and hunger problems that have been plaguing the resource-rich province.

“A dialogue is needed between the central government and groups representing the people of Papua,” Neles said.

They are the two sides that have been fighting each other all this time, and they each have different interests: the government wants a united nation and the Papuans want freedom, he said.

Giving Papua special autonomy could have been the right answer, Neles said.

“But the autonomy Papua has now was not reached through a process of dialogue, or understanding with the central government. So, its implementation has become messy.”

While autonomy has given the government a way to get money to the province, the government has not provided a legal framework to regulate what is done with it, Neles said.