Indigenous communities in Indonesia lose 8.5 million hectares of land in 5 years 

Indigenous communities in Indonesia have lost a staggering 8.5 million hectares of land over the past five years, according to the Tenure Coalition. This land seizure has resulted in tenurial conflicts, with state actors often involved in acts of violence. The root of the problem lies in conditional recognition policies that make it difficult for indigenous communities to secure their land rights. Even when communities can prove their existence and connection to ancestral lands, government recognition remains ambiguous. The demand for legal reforms and the Indigenous Peoples Bill have not been adequately addressed, and the implementation of policies supporting Indigenous rights is facing delays. The Tenure Coalition is composed of numerous organizations working to address these issues. (Photo © Rivan Hanggarai / Greenpeace).

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A coalition known as the Tenure Coalition has revealed that indigenous communities have lost a staggering 8.5 million hectares of land. According to records from the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), this land was seized from them between 2017 and 2022.

Erwin, a representative of the coalition, stated that this land grab has resulted in tenurial conflicts within indigenous communities. “In general, the conflicts within indigenous communities encompass various sectors such as plantations, state forests, mining, energy, tourism, and infrastructure development,” Erwin explained during the Tenure 2023 conference on 24 November.

Erwin noted that the perpetrators of violence in these conflicts are typically state actors, including the police, military, central government officials, and even village authorities. There are also non-state actors, such as hired thugs employed by companies involved.

Erwin attributed this land seizure to conditional recognition policies that have made it increasingly difficult for indigenous communities to secure their rights, particularly land rights. “The criteria used vary in each regulation, and the weight assigned to each criterion also varies. Furthermore, differences exist in the mechanisms or procedures for recognition,” he clarified.

Erwin pointed out that the existing regulations place a burden on indigenous communities to prove their existence and their relationship to the ancestral lands. Furthermore, government recognition is often ambiguous, even if indigenous communities can demonstrate these elements. Erwin stated that regulations provide the government with the freedom to interpret additional criteria.

Erwin mentioned that the common pretext used by the government to take indigenous lands is “for national interests,” even if indigenous communities can substantively prove their existence and the causal link to their ancestral lands.

He argued that the demand for the passage of the Indigenous Peoples Bill has not been adequately addressed. Similarly, other legal reform agendas, such as the Revision of the Forestry Law, have been left out of the national legislative program.

“The implementation agenda for policies supportive of recognizing indigenous communities and their traditional rights is also facing delays,” he added.

The Tenure Coalition is comprised of various organizations, including AMAN, BRWA, Epistema, HuMa, JKPP, KPA, Perempuan AMAN, Pusaka, Rekam Nusantara, RMI, Samdhana, Sajogyo Institute, WALHI, YLBHI, WGII, KASBI, MADANI, KNTI, KRKP, FIAN, IGJ, Sawit Watch, Greenpeace, Recofte, Papua Studi Center, Landesa, KATA Indonesia, Perempuan Mahardika, and LIPS.