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Indonesian govt under fire over treatment of tribal people

Rights group coalition sounds alarm over increasing threat to indigenous communities

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Indonesian govt under fire over treatment of tribal people

Indigenous people from Samosir district in North Sumatra, Indonesia. (Photo courtesy of AMAN)

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A coalition of human rights groups has accused the Indonesian government of gross negligence by failing to protect indigenous people who are coming under increasing threat as a result of corporate greed.

Greater effort is needed to end the criminalization and torture of indigenous peoples as well as arbitrary seizures of their lands, they said in a Feb. 25 statement.

The coalition, comprising 26 groups, includes the Alliance of Indigenous People of the Archipelago (AMAN), Amnesty International Indonesia, the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, and the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation.

According to AMAN, 125 tribal communities across Indonesia are targets of criminalization.  

“Criminal acts faced by tribal people include the destruction of their sources of living, torture and control of land without their knowledge,” the coalition said in the statement. 

In some cases, tribesmen were accused of violating other people’s freedoms by staging peaceful protests against those abusing their rights, the statement said.

What people forget is that these people are at the forefront of preserving the environment and contribute to the country’s economic stability, the coalition added.

A 2018 AMAN study revealed that every year six major indigenous territories contributed 159 billion rupiah (US$11.3 million) to regional economies through natural resources management and another 171 billion rupiah through environment-related services.

According to Muhammad Arman, AMAN’s head of legal services, more than half of the 16,000 cases heard by the Supreme Court over the last decade were land conflicts involving indigenous people.

“The government should support indigenous people by passing an indigenous people’s bill to enshrine their rights into law,” he told UCA News.

According to AMAN, there are about 17 million indigenous people living in 2,332 communities in Indonesia.

Usman Hamid, director of Amnesty International Indonesia, called on central and local governments to pay serious attention to tribal people, especially their land rights. Much of it is being encroached upon by private companies, he said.

“Many indigenous people have had their rights trampled on and lost land because of exploitation of natural resources and the transfer of land use to certain interest groups or individuals” Hamid told UCA News.

The very existence of indigenous people, he said, is now under serious threat. “Many are being driven from their own land due to greed by large companies,” he said.

The government must not neglect the rights of indigenous people for the sake of development and investment, he added.

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