Rukka Sombolinggi, general secretary of the Indigenous People's Alliance of the Archipelago, a group that promotes the interests of tribal communities, says demarcating ancestral land is important to protecting land rights. (Photo supplied by Rukka Sombolinggi)
Indonesia's indigenous people have condemned the government for failing to protect them from "greedy" corporations that they say continue to encroach on their ancestral lands without fear of legal reprisals.
During an event in Jakarta to mark International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples on Aug. 9, they accused the government of showing very little interest in demarcating ancestral lands, which has allowed much of the encroachment to take place unhindered.
According to Rogan Simanjuntak, a representative of the Lake Toba indigenous community in North Sumatra, the people living around the lake have seen forest land and residential areas over the last decade swallowed up by Toba Pulp Lestary, Indonesia's biggest wood pulp producer.
"Thousands hectares of forest and land in eight districts have been given over to monoculture plants," Simanjuntak told ucanews.com.
Government intervention was needed to prevent further land grabbing, he said.
It can do this by demarcating land and issuing and enforcing regulations to protect indigenous people's land.
"Or the government should close down [Toba Pulp Lestary] to prevent further damage to the area," he said.
Sacred Heart Father Ansel Amo, who heads Merauke Archdiocese's Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission in Papua, a region where ancestral land has been seized on a large scale by plantation companies, said the government should recognize and proactively protect indigenous peoples.
"This recognition should be manifested in a set of laws and local regulations that protect them from threats brought about by investment endorsed by government," he said.
Unfortunately, the government and parliament are moving too slow in deliberating a bill to protect ancestral lands and indigenous people, he said.
A Recognition and Protection for Indigenous People Rights Bill — which has been pending for several years — is listed as a national priority this year and is currently being discussed in parliament.
If introduced it would convert existing constitutional recognition of indigenous people into policies and practices that would recognize and protect their traditional lands and their way of life.
Rukka Sombolinggi, general secretary of the Indigenous People's Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), an independent group that promotes the interests of tribal communities, said her group has mapped about 9.6 million hectares of ancestral territory nationwide.
"We hope the government will recognize and act on it," Simbolinggi said, adding that the alliance comprises 2,373 indigenous communities numbering more than 18 million people, some of whom are Catholics.
Sombolinggi said that during the last two decades of advocating for indigenous people's rights, tribal groups have become increasingly marginalized and that up to nearly 6 million hectares of ancestral land has been grabbed by companies throughout Indonesia.
She also called for stiff government regulations to prevent palm oil plantations or mining companies from land grabbing.
Aferi Fudail, a Home Affairs Ministry official, said the government was trying to address indigenous people's concerns but pointed out that the demarcating of indigenous lands was the task of local governments.
"We have encouraged district heads to do this and issue regulations to protect indigenous communities," he said, without elaborating what those regulations were and whether they were being adhered to or not.