A coalition of organisations has requested the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Commission to take action under its Early Warning and Urgent Action procedures to address the dire situation being faced by indigenous people all over Indonesia. For the second time, the specific focus of their concern is the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE), a huge plantations project extending over up to 2.5 million hectares in the Southern part of West Papua.
The letter starts by placing conflict over plantations in a wider context of racial discrimination in West Papua. It looks at the failure of Papua’s special autonomy law and so how there has been no protection against ongoing human rights abuses, including the rights of indigenous people to control their traditional territories and resources. It examines evidence of whether the legacy of social and demographic change arising from Indonesian transmigration and economic programs, coupled with state violence, imprisonment and torture, can be considered as meeting definitions of genocide.
Moving on to look at the specific situation of MIFEE, the submission details its effects on indigenous people, most of which live by hunting, gathering and some subsistence farming. As a land grab operating in the context of a military-business-political framework and climate of political intimidation, MIFEE is accused of directly threatening the food security and cultural survival of indigenous people in Merauke.
The report details the strategies that various companies have used to obtain the signatures they need from local people to get their operating permits: taking people to the city, where they are given money and then asked to sign away their land when drunk, getting the signature of clan heads without the knowledge of the rest of the community or intimidating the people by involving the military in land negotiations. The impacts when companies start their operations, such as child malnutrition and environmental pollution, are also highlighted.
This is followed by an interesting discussion of whether plantation development constituted forced labour. The basic argument is that if people’s land, which has always provided their means of support, is taken away from them, and the only choice they are left with is to work as manual labour for the company which has taken over the land. They are often underpaid and working conditions are inadequate. It is noted that in Merauke, few indigenous Papuans who now work for the companies would have chosen that work. If they work as smallholders under these conditions it is clearly an example of feudal serfdom – and if they are labourers would it be too extreme to say this is a modern form of slavery?
The letter concludes by drawing attention to a recent Constitutional Court decision which decrees that indigenous land belongs to indigenous people and it is not state forest land – an encouraging development, but it remains to be seen how and if it will be implemented.
All in all, the letter presents a broad analysis of the need for urgent action to address the systematic discrimination against indigenous people in Merauke. The authors don’t forget to remind us that this concern is not limited to MIFEE, but similar concerns are held elsewhere in Papua and throughout Indonesia.
The full submission can be downloaded in English here: http://pusaka.or.id/dokumen-submission-cerd-untuk-mifee-25-juli-2013/
Forest Peoples Program, UK
Sawit Watch, Bogor
SKP KAME, Merauke
FOKER LSM PAPUA, Jayapura
Sajogyo Institute, Bogor
Down to Earth, UK
Watch Indonesia, Jerman
JERAT Papua, Jayapura
JASOIL Papua, Manokwari
VIVAT Indonesia, Jakarta
JPIC MSC Indonesia, Jakarta
Debt Watch Indonesia, Jakarta
CAPPA Keadilan Ekologi, Jambi
Solidaritas Perempuan, Jakarta
Sarekat Hijau Indonesia, Jakarta
Yayasan Anak Dusun Papua, Abepura
West Papua Netzwerk, Germany
Greenpeace Indonesia, Jakarta