Demonstrators in Myanmar hold up signs protesting against the palm oil industry

Indonesia: Indigenous peoples now rightfully own their lands

In a landmark court ruling in Indonesia, the customary lands of indigenous people have been removed from State ownership.

The ruling, given in a judicial review of a 1999 forest law which was sought by Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (AMAN, or the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago), returns the rights over customary forests to the indigenous communities which have traditionally inhabited them – rights appropriated by the State through the 1999 law.

Here’s is the English language version of today’s AMAN press release announcing the decision …

Constitutional Court Agrees on Judicial Review of UUK – Jakarta, 16 May 2013

Constitutional Court has accepted the Judicial Review of Act No. 41/1999 on Forestry (Undang-Undang Kehutanan or UUK) submitted by the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), Thursday (16/5).

AMAN warmly welcomes the decision announced in Plenary Hall of Constitutional Court. This ruling means that Customary Forest is not State Forest and that Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago will get back their rights over their customary forests seized by the State through UUK.

“AMAN submitted the judicial review in March 2012 and its series of sessions ended in June. Good things come to those who wait. About 40 millions Indigenous Peoples now are rightful over our customary forests because the State has become unable to expel us out of our customary forests that have become our source of livelihood from generation to generation,” said Secretary-General of AMAN Abdon Nababan.

AMAN perceives that the UUK was deliberately legalised to take over customary forests and give them to capital owners through various license schemes. These so-called legal seizures practically happen on all around Indonesia. The exploitation of customary forests has been proven threatening to the sustainability of Indigenous Peoples and damaging environment. Both the Ministry of Forestry and Statistics Indonesia (BPS) show that there are 31,957 interacting with forests and 71.06 percent of them heavily depend on forest resources.

UUK is not the only Act violating Indigenous Peoples’ rights over their customary forests. Last month the House of Representatives secretly discussed the Draft Act on Eradication of Deforestation (RUU P2H) potentially criminalising Indigenous Peoples whose livelihoods heavily depending on forests.

“Holding onto Constitutional Court’s ruling today, AMAN will keep fighting for Indigenous Peoples to get back our rights over our customary forests that have become our source of livelihood from generation to generation,” added Abdon Nababan.

AMAN was established on 17 March 1999. Its missions are “Political sovereignty, economic independence and cultural sovereignty.” Please

• Read the release in Indonesian here.


EIA forests campaigner Mardi Minangsari adds:

“For  more than 40 years, indigenous peoples of Indonesia have been marginalised, impoverished and criminalised due to lack of recognition of indigenous rights that led to  lasting tenurial conflicts. 

“Although the National Constitution fully recognises the rights of indigenous peoples, the laws issued later do not reflect that. The 1960 Law on Basic Agrarian regulation gave conditional recognition to indigenous peoples and, during the New Order era, millions of hectares of customary lands have been given to large companies for logging, plantations, mining operations and many Government development projects.

“The issuance of the Forestry Law in 1999 that stipulates that customary forest is State Forest has further taken away the rights of indigenous peoples over their land and forest resources. 

“Tenure-related conflicts between indigenous peoples and private sectors (logging, plantation and mining companies) and between indigenous communities and Government have risen and become very violent, taking many lives of indigenous peoples all over Indonesia.  The National Forestry Council (DKN) records ongoing forest management conflicts in 19,420 villages in 33 provinces throughout Indonesia, covering more than 1.2 million hectares.  

“Law reform is crucial to ensure that the human rights violation of more than 40 millions of indigenous peoples of Indonesia do not continue. The judicial review filed by AMAN (Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago) is one effort to reclaim the rights of indigenous peoples in Indonesia.”