AMAN: Indigenous People's Rights Exist Only in Constitution

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  • TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - According to the Indonesian Archipelago Indigenous People Alliance (AMAN) data, hundreds of community members have been criminalized in various parts of the country with the majority of them being implicated in land issues. Even though for generations they have lived on their lands, some of them are now either under the control of corporations or converted into national parks. “Like a rat that dies in a rice barn,” said AMAN’s Secretary-General Rukka Sombolinggi in a special interview with Tempo last Monday, June 8.

    Rukka explained that violence against the indigenous communities kept recurring because there was no specific law to protect their constitutional rights. In a recent incident, Bongku bin Jelodan of the Sukai tribe in Bengkalis, Riau, was sentenced by the Bengkalis District Court’s panel of judges to one year in prison for clearing land to plant yam. He had no idea that his ancestral land had been taken over by a company. “The government has given concessions to corporations without people's knowledge," said Rukka. Bongku was freed last Wednesday, June 10, through an assimilation program under the Covid-19 prevention and control policy.

    With Tempo, Rukka talked about conflicts that continue to beleaguer the indigenous people, the urgent need to get the customary law community bill enacted, to how the communities are responding to the recent pandemic.

    Hundreds of indigenous people have been criminalized in the conflicts with companies. Why does this continue to happen?

    Criminalization is just one of many forms of violence they face because as of now there is no legal certainty for the indigenous peoples. If you trace the problem to its root, you’ll find it is a structural problem, a policy problem. The Constitution acknowledges the indigenous people. Clause 2 of Article 18-B and clause 3 of Article 28-I recognize them and their customary and collective rights. Unfortunately, that’s all there is to it. They only exist in the Constitution. There is no specific law created to safeguard these rights. The government has no holistic guidelines to administer, protect and fulfill the indigenous peoples' rights.

    What are the impacts of the absence of special laws for the indigenous peoples?

    It gave birth to many (unjust) laws targeting indigenous lands. All these lands are considered unoccupied and land rights were given to corporations via permits and concessions. Even though some laws recognize the indigenous peoples, the regulations are biased. There are many contradictory and overlapping laws. Sectoral arrogance among the ministries has led to fragmented administration of the indigenous communities. It’s like living in a huge room with many disconnected, windowless, or door-less rooms. It’s like being trapped in a labyrinth.

    What rights does the Constitution actually give to the indigenous peoples?

    The above-mentioned interrelated articles recognize the customary law communities and their traditional rights. These articles raise the issue of the hereditary rights of the indigenous communities. The Constitution from the beginning acknowledges the existence of the indigenous peoples and the rights they already had before Indonesia gained independence. In these customary rights are collective rights, among others to determine their own fate, to self-government and to determine economic, social and cultural development priorities on their own. So, there shouldn’t be any forced development.

    How about land rights?

    The constitution guarantees their rights to land and to all individual rights, for example, the right to enjoy public services, education, health and administrative services, and the right to vote. The political right is a fundamental right, isn’t it? But everything is still vague because there is no law.

    The draft law on indigenous people was proposed during the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono administration. Why is the deliberation taking so long?

    The government certainly has no will because the bill failed twice to get endorsed although the ball is in its court. Now, not only the environment and forestry ministry, but also the home affairs ministry, the maritime affairs and fisheries ministry, the village ministry to the agrarian affairs and spatial planning ministry are involved. There are seven ministries appointed by President Joko Widodo but they are not doing their job.

    How does AMAN communicate this problem to the president?

    We've met with Pak Jokowi three times, once before he became President. In the two meetings after he became President, Jokowi said he would set up a task force on indigenous people but there is nothing yet up to now.

    Read the full interview in Tempo English Magazine