Declaration of Indigenous Papuans affected by Forestry, Plantations and Mining.

A conference of indigenous Papuans affected by the forestry, plantation and mining industries was held in Sorong on 2nd and 3rd December 2014,  a follow-up to a similar conference held in Waena, Jayapura in 2014. This is the joint statement agreed by participants in that meeting.

Joint Declaration

We, as representatives of indigenous peoples from the land of Papua who live in and around forest areas, along with civil society organisations from around Papua and further afield, held a conference in Sorong on the 2nd and 3rd December 2016, to discuss various problems related to development policy and investments in forestry and land, and their effects on people and environment.

We have repeatedly conveyed the facts surrounding the negative impacts of investment in forestry and land on the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples around Papua, including violations of their right to life, right to freedom, right to justice and freedom from discrimination, right to not be tortured, right to feel safe, rights to our land, forest and territory, violations of the principle of free, prior informed consent, right to food, right to welfare and development, and also low rates of pay and poor working conditions, forest degradation and destruction, and environmental damage.

We wish to state our pain and deep concern about all these rights violations, the suffering and the losses which we have experienced, both in the past and until the present day, which have come abut as a result of forestry investment and exploitation of forest products, plantations and mining, carried out by private or state-owned companies, with no just settlement or attempts at redress for what we have lost.

We wish to state our concern at government plans and policies for the acceleration of development in the Land of Papua, by providing opportunities and increased flexibility for wealthy companies, through the large-scale national food and energy development programme in Merauke, expansion of oil palm plantations and other export commodities, exploitation of forests, industrial forestry plantations, mining permits, transport infrastructure, and so on, all of which take place with insufficient prior protection of our fundamental rights, our right to land and livelihood and environmental conservation.

Based on this scenario, we would like to make the following recommendations: Read More »

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The Menara Group* has not carried out its obligations.

Between 2011 and 2014, the Forestry Minister issued decrees releasing state forest land to twelve oil palm plantation companies in and around Jair sub-district of Boven Digoel Regency.

Five of those companies are owned by or still have connections with a Malaysian company, the Menara Group*: PT. Usaha Nabati Terpadu (37.918 ha), PT. Megakarya Jaya Raya (39.920 ha), PT. Kartika Cipta Pratama (38.160 ha), PT. Graha Kencana Mulia (38.725 ha), PT. Energi Samudera Kencana (38.525 ha). Currently, only one of these companies, PT Megakarya Jaya Raya is operational, and is based in Anggai Village, Jair Sub-district, Boven Digoel Regency.

According to Stevanus Meanggi, a resident of Anggai village, PT MJR has been clearing forest since 2013, and has currently cleared an area of over 3000 hectares, which is less than 10% of the concession. The majority of the area has been planted with oil palm. The company is also trying to develop a plywood factory at a place called Sabageran.

The head of the Planning Division of Boven Digoel Forestry Service, Zeth Manti, reckons that PT MJR has been under-performing in the oil palm business, meaning the company is behind schedule with planting. “They once applied for a two-year extension of their permit for the nursery, although it would have been possible in three months. There are obstacles and objections to land acquisition coming from the community, and maybe that’s because the company failed to approach the community beforehand”, said Zeth Manti.

Several problems have been identified, including the following: there are still clan members who have not agreed to let a company manage their land, intimidation to acquire land, an unfairly low level of compensation for land, clearing sago groves, a low rate of compensation for timber – 10,000 Rupiah per tree, discrimination against Papuan workers, low wages, company promises that haven’t been followed-up, the company ignoring agreements it has made, the community has still not received a written agreement concerning the use of the land and so on.

Zeth Manti complained that actually a company should make regular reports to local government and related bodies concerning matters such as any obstacles encountered, how work is progressing and draft work plans.

Companies have a responsibility to make regular reports and send them to us, so we know about the company’s situation. But in fact this company has never reported to us or coordiated with us”, he said.

Zeth Manti had also heard the information that a plywood factory was being built in Anggai village, and that a traditional ritual to offer thanks for its development had been held, but the Boven Digoel Forestry Service had not been informed or invited, and so they had no further details. Read More »

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DAP statement on potential mining related conflict in Nifasi, Nabire

(This statement was first published on November 18th)

PT Kristalin Eka Lestari first arrived in Nifasi, in the ancestral land of the Wate people, in 2007, but left after exploration did not yield results. PT Kristalin then made an agreement with the Makimi indigenous group in 2012. There has been no activity between 2012 and 2016.

PT Tunas Anugerah Papua made an agreement with the people of Nifasi in 2014 and started operations. This included corporate social responsibility activities, which included setting up bank accounts for each household, paying for education, health, religious facilities and even a motorbike for each head-of household, as well as distributing basic foodstuffs each month paid from production profits.

The Mosairo River forms the boundary between the two blocks, the Makimi Block and the Nifasi block.

The main issue

Arriving as a contractor to PT Tunas Anugerah Papua in early October 2016, PT Kristalin came to Nifasi village and set up their outpost next to PT Tunas Anugerah Papua’s basecamp. They took over a community outpost and replaced it with a military post. As there was no response from the Nifasi indigenous people PT Kristalin Eka Lestari rallied around 30 members of the military (Yonif 753 Raider) and several Papuans from the highland Dani tribe to secure the location so the company could mine it. A military post was set up directly, displaying a sign reading NKRI Harga Mati: “Unified Indonesia or Death”.

To provide cover for this plan, the local unit commander sent a letter to the district commander in Paniai asking to use the area as a training ground (letter reference B/621/X/2016, dated 17th October 2016), but this is just a pretext to remain in the area for an indefinite time. Each time they bring fuel or food they say it belongs to the Regional Military Commander.


This situation has made the Wate people in Nifasi anxious, as they are continually being questioned by members of the military. On 7th October the military also conducted a sweeping operation, looking for foreign workers.

Another impact is that PT Tunas Anugerah Papua’s work is disrupted, which has meant that corporate social responsibility activities have been disturbed, such as a prayer meeting with the local community which was blocked by army forces. The security forces intimidated employees and were believed to have taken material belonging to PT Tunas Anugerah Papua. Read More »

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As oil palm moves in, the Yei people’s forest slowly disappears.

Yance Mahuze, a well-known member of the Yei ethnic group from Toray village, Sota sub-district, Merauke Regency, was unable to conceal his sadness. His eyes were glazed with tears. What was going on? He looked over his ancestral forest, now an oil palm plantation. Some individuals from the Yeinan tribe (a sub-ethnic group of the Marind people), had agreed to sell their land to plantation companies.

The land is situated at the upper reaches of the Maro River, which flows through many villages on its way to Merauke city. Villages inhabited by the Yei people include Erambo, Toray, Poo, Kweel, Bupul and Tanas. To reach these villages, you have to follow the Trans-Papua road.

Oil palm is not only found in Sota sub-district, it has also arrived in Elikobel. Mahuze feels a sense of pity, since as far as the eye can see the forest that was formerly full of trees is now replaced with oil palm

Previously, he said, the forest was dense, and so if people wanted to visit relatives across the border in Papua New Guinea, they just had to walk for a few hours. Now, with the trees gone, it is too hot. “You need more than a day to reach PNG”, he said.

The local government in Merauke and Papua Provincial Government have allowed oil palm investment to enter the Yei people’s land, and they have been free to fell trees on a seemingly limitless area. Many sacred places, places where the ancestors used to stop or burial sites, and even sago groves, have been cleared.

“Places which used to be totally forbidden to clear are now being felled for oil palm”, he said.

He said that there are two companies operating in the Yeinan forest on the Indonesia- Papua New Guinea border: PT Internusa Jaya Sejahtera and PT Agriprima Persada Mulia.

When they first arrived, the companies promised to give work to Yei people. “But promises remained mere promises, Now, the forests, rivers, swamps and animals in the Yeinan area no longer belong to the Yei people”, he said.

The forest has always been their source of food, he said. They meet their everyday needs from the forests, whether frrom the different kinds of plants or the many species of fish. The area is also rich in animal live, including cassowaries, other birds, ground rats, pig-nose turtles, crocodiles and more.

When the Catholic church arrived in the Yeinan area, it introduced rubber, which the local people have diligently planted.

The upper reaches of the Maro River where deforestation has occurred have silted up. Riverine wildlife can’t bear living in the Maro River. He explains that many turtles have been coming onto the land to take shelter under tall trees. Normally, the people find the turtles on the banks of the Maro River. The same goes for crocodiles – there used to be many in the Maro River, but now they have moved to the Wanggo River.

“The Merauke local government must stop any more investors coming to Yeinan”, he said. Read More »

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A statement from indigenous people in Boven Digoel

This statement was drafted during a meeting between indigenous Papuans affected by plantation development, NGOs and local government representatives, on 4th and 5th November 2016.

We are representatives of the Auyu, Wambon and Muyu peoples, who live within the administrative area of Boven Digoel Regency, Papua province, and primarily in villages that are targets for investment in the forestry and plantation sector. We have held a dialogue with government and policy-makers from Boven Digoel, along with Civil Society Organisations PUSAKA, SKP Merauke Archdiocese and WWF Papua, concerning government policy to protect and respect the rights of Papuan indigenous people to land and natural wealth. The even was held in the PBHK Convent Dormitory in Tanah Merah, on the 4th and 5th November 2016.

We take the view that the land is like our mother who protects human beings and all living creatures found on or under the earth. For us, land has many uses – it is the place we live, the place we build our lives together, a place for hunting, sacred places, holy places, historic places, our source of food, our source of income, our source of medicines, our particular social and cultural identity, a habitat for animals and plants, the land which is transferred when a marriage takes place, and a place for things visible and invisible.

We indigenous people control and own land and natural wealth based on customary law and the customs alive within each community, such as systems to regulate inheritance, gifts and fines. Land management and land use is still based on local knowledge and customs, decision-making councils, mutual aid, family labour, the use of traditional tools and working at a small-scale to meet life’s needs, also paying attention to protecting the environment.

We are currently facing problems and threats due to the investment activities of logging and oil palm companies which are taking land and forest products from our ancestral domain on a large scale. The companies are: PT Tunas Sawa Erma (Korindo), PT. Usaha Nabati Terpadu, PT. Trimegah Karya Utama, PT. Megakarya Jaya Raya, PT. Manunggal Sukses Mandiri, PT. Megakarya Jaya Raya, PT. Kartika Cipta Pratama, PT. Graha Kencana Mulia, PT. Energi Samudera Kencana, as well as logging companes PT Tunas Timber and PT Bade Makur Orissa, which all together have permits for 1,088,394 hectares.

The government gives out permits to companies without the local indigenous community first holding a meeting to decide what they want and give their agreement. The companies acquire land without a collective community decision or free and fair negotiations. Companies use a method of payment which they call “tali asih” [a vague term used to mean a thank-you payment] to obtain land from customary rights owners. They also organise celebrations, give aid, make promises of development, make open or veiled threats of violence, use manipulative techniques, and ask people to sign empty sheets of paper. When ‘tali asih’ or compensation money is given, it takes place secretively and as the company chooses and so only serves to create conflict and tension between members of the community, mutual suspicion and a feeling of disharmony. Read More »

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The voice of Papuan workers: the companies came and our income dropped.

When the oil palm plantation companies first arrive in the villages they promise jobs for indigenous Papuans, an effort to implant dreams of improved economic well-being and higher incomes. Once work starts however, the promises aren’t followed through and the imagined changes never come about. Meanwhile, the land and forest which used to provide the community livelihood disappears and control over the land passes to the companies.

This is the experience of indigenous Papuans who live near oil palm plantation companies. Coercive means are used to take their land and then the people have no other choice than to become labourers for the oil palm companies.

Marta Kandam (19 years old) a Papuan woman who lives in Gententiri village, Jair sub-district, Boven Digoel, told of her experiences before and after the arrival of an oil palm company.

“The economy of the community in Getentiri before the company arrived was based on rubber-tapping and our forest gardens. We used to sell the rubber to Pastor Keis. Our monthly income could be as much as 2.5 or even 3 million Rupiah,” she related.

The majority of peoples living along the Boven Digoel river have rubber farms and are dependant on that commodity as their main source of income. According to the head of the agriculture and plantation agency in Boven Digoel, Martinus Wagi, up to 6,000 hectares has been planted with rubber by the local population.

When the oil palm plantation PT Tunas Sawa Erma arrived in Gententiri, Jair sub-district and Ujung Kia, Kia sub-district, they felled and cleared natural forest, sago groves, rubber farms and plantations of fruit trees, which were replaced with oil palm plantation and company infrastructure.

“We stopped tapping rubber and went to work for the company, as unskilled plantation labour. We get paid for every day we work, but it still works out as less than before the company came. After we started working for the company, even if we work really hard, the monthly wage is only one and a half million Rupiah, or a bit less, no more than that”, Marta said, who has been working as a plantation labourer.

Read More »

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Grabbing land locally, changing climate globally: the winners and the losers in West Papua’s plantation boom

The potential impacts of climate change have long been a major concern around the Pacific reason, where, for example, many small islands are vulnerable to sea level rise. In recent years, the human rights situation and political status of West Papua has also been attracting more and more attention in the region. A conference in Sydney, from 3rd-4th November, set out to explore the connections between these two important themes, even though they may at first glance seem unrelated.

The organisers of the At the Intersection conference, from the West Papua Project at the University of Western Sydney, are planning to publish a report presenting the outcomes of the meeting. In the meantime, here’s the paper I submitted for the conference. It’s an analysis of the palm oil industry in West Papua, which has taken off exponentially since around 2010. It considers the parallels between the industry’s impacts, both at a local level for indigenous Papuans as the forest is destroyed, and globally, since the industry contributes significantly to causing climate change. At both levels, this represents an injustice, because certain more privileged actors have benefited, leaving others endure the problems caused.

The paper goes on to analyse who it that benefits from the palm oil business as resource industries tackle this new frontier. Three interest groups stand out: First of all there are the local and national politicians who give the permits, in a non-transparent system which seems to invite corruption. Then there are the companies themselves, which can be classified into three important groups: ambitious medium-sized plantation companies prepared to take risks to expand their land-bank, logging companies which can use their experience locally to expedite permit acquisition, and speculators, who keep a low profile while obtaining permits and then sell on the plantation concessions at a premium. The role of the state security forces (military and police) should also not be ignored – they side with companies, intimidating customary land rights holders into agreeing to development and repressing worker demands for better conditions, but also gain both through legal business interests and illegal sidelines.

The main barriers to plantation expansion are also examined. They include, at a grassroots level, the opposition and active resistance of indigenous communities throughout Papua, and the reaction of the industry itself which has been pushed to address its role in causing climate change and habitat loss.

palm oil in Papua and climate justiceGrabbing land locally, changing climate globally: the winners and the losers in West Papua’s plantation boom

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Yerisiam Gua Women: Our lives depend on sago

[awasMIFEE note: This is a translation of an article by Zely Ariane which was published by tabloid Jubi on 29th October, based on a similar article published by in May. As part of a response to a complaint to the RSPO, the company has since initiated a process of dialogue with the community, and they met on the 4th November to address the issue of the sago groves which it started to clear in April 2016. Those discussions are ongoing, but they come after a long history of problems with this plantation since it first started clearing forest in 2012. Two recent articles on the Mongabay site address question why the business community, for all its talk of sustainability, has turned a blind eye to what has been going on in Nabire: Why an RSPO complaint made in May 2016 has still not been made public on the company’s case tracker? and why are trading companies with no deforestation commitments continuing to buy from Goodhope, PT Nabire Baru’s parent company, claiming that they were not aware the company was engaged in deforestation? ]

Yerisiam Gua Women: Our lives depend on sago

Mama Yuliana Akubar was barefoot as she entered the Nabire District Legislative Council Building that lunchtime. Dressed in batik with a Papuan motif, she looked cold, still damp after the rain on the journey from Sima village in Yaur sub-district to Nabire.

“I did bring shoes, but let’s go in like this. This is what we Yerisiam people wear,” she said softly.

She came with 30 other members of the Yerisiam Gua ethnic group from Sima, to attend an exchange of opinion between PT Nabire Baru, the Sima community and the government, facilitated by the District Legislative Council.

Mama Yuliana reminisced about her hopes. She said that her elder brother had been one of those who gave the company permission, fuelling their hopes that it would improve the Yerisiam people’s standard of living.

Now the company’s actions are increasingly distant from its promises. “The company has backtracked from all we spoke about originally”, she said.

“Maybe the land doesn’t want us to work”

Dorkas Numberi (47 years old) explained that when the oil palm company moved in, the villagers were offered work. “Some people stared work, but maybe the land didn’t want to let them. After the Yerisiam people started working our feet were itching, and then covered in boils. Some people’s feet were swollen”, she said.

She told how her son and daughter also worked for the company. First of all they said it was planting work, but it turned out to be working in the nursery. “They were planting seedlings. But when they got home their bodies were all itchy and scratchy, they thought it was just normal, but then they had sores all over their body.” Read More »

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Stop Military business and respect the rights of indigenous Papuans.

Translation of a Press Release from a Coalition of Civil Society Organisations

On 16th July 2016 soldiers from the sub-district military command in Muting, Merauke Regency, came to look for Agustinus Dayo Mahuze, the chair of the Mahuze clan in Muting village, at his house. Their intention was to invite him to meet with the bosses of oil palm company PT Agriprima Cipta Persada (ACP) at the plantation site, and also to deliver a notice signed by the chair of the Kartika Setya Jaya co-operative, a military business linked to the District Military Comand 1707 in Merauke. The letter was dated 11th July 2016 and with reference number 8/16/VII/2016, and it gave notice of a permit of a work contract to clear land for oil palm in PT ACP’s concession..

The soldiers from the sub-district military command met Agustinus Dayo Mahuze away from his house, on the road towards Mbilanggo village, that afternoon, and stated the purpose of their visit. When the military officers told Agustinus Dayo about the plans between the co-operative and the company he felt threatened, afraid and anxious.

PT ACP’s has often involved the military and police in support of its business interests, and they have participated in activities related to obtaining the right to use land and in clearing land. This work has been accompanied by intimidation and threats of violence, generating nervousness and tension between the local community and the company, government and police and military personnel. Evidence for this are the letters the community repeatedly sent to the government, the police and military and the National Human Rights Commission between January and July 2015, to which they received no meaningful response.

Before that, the community had already made their feelings clear to the government and company by erecting notices around their ancestral land that read “the greater Mahuze clan’s land is not to be used for oil palm”. The community are also hoping to resolve the problem of a few members of the clan who have yet to repay money which had been given to a them as land compensation and which is being considered as proof of the transfer of land title, despite the fact that the clan members who accepted it did so without the general agreement of the whole greater Mahuze clan.

Read More »

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Indigenous people of Maybrat oppose PT ANJ’s ambitions

PT Austindo Nusantara Jaya Tbk, owned by the Tahija family, is currently planning to expand its oil palm business in areas administered by the Maybrat Regency, through a subsidiary company called PT Pusaka Agro Makmur (40,000 hectares).

PT ANJ Group already operates an oil palm business in the Maybrat area and across the regency border in South Sorong, through two other subsidiaries, PT Putera Manunggal Perkasa (which holds cultivation rights title (HGU) on 22,687 hectares) and PT Permata Putera Mandiri (which has HGU rights on 26,571 hectares). Apart from this PT ANJ also owns a company called PT ANJ Agri Papua which has a concession to extract non-timber forest products, in this case sago, from a 40,000 hectare sago forest, located in Metamani district , South Sorong Regency, West Papua Province.

The three oil palm companies were originally owned by PT Pusaka Agro Sejahtera and three Singaporean foreign investment companies Xinfeng Plantation Pte Ltd, Xinyou Plantation Pte Ltd and Wodi Kaifa Ltd. The three companies were bought in stages by PT ANJ Group. PT Pusaka Agro Makmur was the last to be acquired by PT ANJ, in October 2014.

In Papua there are some domestic and foreign companies in the plantation business which engage in the practice of ‘land banking’, selling on natural forest for which they have managed to obtain development permits to new owners, often those which like to present a “green, welfare” image. This technique benefits these new companies because it means they can avoid responsibility for problems in the past. It is a new method to conceal companies’ shady practices connected with land acquisition, land disputes and forest destruction.

PT ANJ gave its 2015 annual report the title “Responsible Development for the Future”. PT ANJ has also committed to improve its corporate image to “produce quality products that are environmentally-friendly while adhering to best management practices that help us to achieve excellent performance, ensure good employee welfare and empower the community as equal partners”. A noble and populist ambition sure to capture people’s attention.

One of the places the company wants to realise its ambition is Papua. “We have planned for our principal source of future production growth to come from eastern Indonesia, through the development of new plantations in West Papua, and in 2013 and 2014 we acquired 105,159 hectares of landbank across three concessions.” (ANJ 2015 Annual Report). Read More »

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