Last week’s fatal shooting of a child by police during a protest over a land dispute has highlighted the seriousness of land ownership rights violations across the country, activists said on Thursday.
Gunawan, executive chairman of the Indonesian Human Rights Committee for Social Justice (IHCS), said the government was not just slow to address land disputes, but also exacerbated them through controversial legislation.
“Agrarian reform is being conducted very slowly, almost as though there are legal obstacles in the way,” he said at a discussion hosted by the Anti-Land Grab Advocacy Team (APTR).
“At the same time, laws and regulations designed to take away people’s land are passed without trouble.”
Henry Saragih, chairman of the Indonesian Farmers Union (SPI), told the discussion that the problem was that the government was advantaging major corporations at the expense of community rights.
“In 2007, the president promised to overhaul the national land policy, but he’s failed so far,” he said.
“More recently he said the same thing, but just [a few] days later we had the tragedy in South Sumatra in which a 12-year-old boy was killed.
“From the very beginning the government has failed to implement a pro-people economic system as mandated by the Constitution, and instead has pursued free-market policies that favor private companies, like in colonial times,” Henry added.
Thursday’s discussion was held in the wake of the incident last Friday in South Sumatra’s Ogan Ilir district in which police fired live ammunition into a crowd of villagers protesting the presence of a sugar cane plantation and sugar factory in their area.
One person was killed in the incident and four others wounded.
The Cinta Manis plantation, run by state-owned plantation firm Perkebunan Nusantara (PTPN) VII, has been a source of friction since 1982, when it was established through the forced eviction of 22 villages in six subdistricts.
Rights activists say PTPN VII used security forces to pressure residents to give up their rubber and pineapple farms, but failed to provide decent compensation for the land.
Gunawan said violence by the authorities against civilians was far too common in land disputes.
“The police, the National Land Agency [BPN] and local administrations and legislatures have failed in their job of ending the violence, resolving land disputes and protecting the rights of the victims and land owners,” he said.
Johnny Nelson Simanjuntak, a member of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), said many land disputes were allowed to languish unresolved for years.
“The government prefers to give way to investment and revenues, and in return hopes that the people will benefit from this through jobs and so on,” he said.
“But the government lacks ideas for how to really empower people like farmers and indigenous groups [whose lands are taken over].”