Restitution of customary forests: Not so fast

Bald patch: An aerial view of a coal mine in the middle of a Samarinda forest in East Kalimantan. Antara

The government is signaling the possible restitution of customary forests to indigenous communities after the Constitutional Court annulled the government’s ownership of customary forests.

Restitution, which Forestry Ministry secretary-general Hadi Dar-yanto said would be carried out by revoking business permits of companies operating in customary forests and by the reclamation of damaged areas, can start once regional administrations legally recognize customary forests on their territory.

Hadi said that businesses would be driven out of customary forests, which would then be “saved”.

“Even if there’s a concession for an HTI [industrial forest permits] or HPH [production forest concessions], as long as there’s a bylaw, then the companies will have to leave,” he said.

“The key lies with the regents. As long as there is no bylaw, there can be no [restitution],” he added.

There is one problem with the government’s intention to rescue customary forests: as yet, no regional administration has issued a customary forest bylaw.

Moreover, only a few administrations have enacted bylaws on indigenous communities. Out of more than 30 provinces, only Central Kalimantan and West Sumatra have issued bylaws on indigenous communities living in those provinces. Meanwhile, from around 400 regencies and cities, only four regencies — Lebak in Banten; Malinau in North Kalimantan; North Luwu in South Sulawesi; and Tana Toraja in Central Sulawesi — have passed bylaws on indigenous communities in their areas.

Hadi said the Forestry Ministry was working on a draft regulation to force local administrations to acknowledge customary forests in bylaws.

But he acknowledged that implementation still depended on local administrations. “If it’s election time, will they be willing to manage issues such as this? And we have 400 regencies and municipalities, that’s the challenge,” he said.

“If the regent is accommodating, the process will be fast. Let’s just be positive,” he said.

Indonesian Palm Oil Producers Association (Gapki) executive director Fadhil Hasan said he had yet to be informed of the plan to revoke business permits following the Constitutional Court ruling. He said that Gapki members adhered to government’s regulations on concessions.

Following the court ruling on customary forests, the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) and civil society organizations signed a declaration on May 27 welcoming the ruling.

Along with the civil society organizations and individuals, including a commissioner from the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), Sandra Moniaga, AMAN called for the government to resolve conflicts relating to customary forests and natural resources on customary land. They also demanded an amnesty for indigenous peoples who have been criminalized for entering protected forest areas.

Abdon Nababan, AMAN’s secretary-general, also called for the central government to coordinate a mechanism for indigenous people to register their communities and map out their customary areas. At the moment, there is no official government data about the number of communities and their territories.

“President [Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono] should take a step toward collecting data on indigenous peoples, their customary land, and mapping out customary forests,” Abdon said.

Abdon doubted the financial feasibility of relying on bylaws for the recognition of customary forests. “There can be dozens of customary forests in a single regency. In that case, would a regency introduce dozens of bylaws? The cost to issue just one regency bylaw is around Rp 400 million [US$40,302] to Rp 700 million. If, for instance, there are 10 identified customary forests, it would cost between Rp 4 billion and Rp 10 billion to recognize all the customary forests in one regency,” Abdon said.

Komnas HAM commissioner Sandra Moniaga said the President should release a decree “to prevent confusion among communities”.

Currently, with no official identification of indigenous communities and their territories, indigenous peoples’ rights have only been nominally recognized. “The government should recognize indigenous communities in various other pieces of legislation,” she said.

Currently, lawmakers are deliberating a bill on the rights of indigenous peoples.

AMAN claims Indonesia has around 40 million hectares of customary forest. So far a civil society-led mapping of indigenous land by the Indonesian Community Mapping Network (JKPP) has documented 3.9 million hectares of indigenous land, of which 3.1 million hectares are forest areas, JKPP coordinator Kasmita Widodo said.

The network has submitted its preliminary mapping of 2.4 million hectares of customary forests to the Presidential Working Unit for the Supervision and Management of Development (UKP4), which is working on an integrated map of Indonesia.

— JP/Prodita Sabarini

The Jakarta Post | Reportage | Mon, June 24 2013

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