Indonesia Treats its Indigenous Peoples “Worse Than Any Other Country in the World”

Survival International recently announced that “Indonesia treats its indigenous and tribal people, especially in West Papua, worse than any other country in the world.”  This finding, surprisingly, comes after the Indonesian Government adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples back in September, 2007.  Read below to learn more.

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On 13 September 2007, the Indonesian Government adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Five years later, Survival International announced that “Indonesia treats its indigenous and tribal people, especially in West Papua, worse than any other country in the world.” What went wrong?

Every four years, the UN carries out a review of the human rights record of all 192 UN Member States. The Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review for Indonesia includes two recommendations from Norway relating to Indigenous Peoples in the country. The first relates to the International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 169 on indigenous and tribal peoples and the second is a recommendation that Indonesia addresses its current legislation which discriminates against indigenous peoples:

109.7. Consider ratifying ILO Convention N° 169 (Norway);

109.36. Ensure the rights of indigenous peoples and local forest dependent peoples in law and practice, in particular regarding their rights to traditional lands, territories and resources (Norway).

The Indonesian Government’s response is fascinating:

Recommendations 109.7 and 109.36: The Government of Indonesia supports the promotion and protection of indigenous people worldwide. Given its demographic composition, Indonesia, however, does not recognize the application of the indigenous people concept as defined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the country;

(The UN’s review of Indonesia is available here [pdf file, 2.7 MB] and the Indonesian Government’s response is here [pdf file, 375.5 kB].)

Again and again we hear that REDD won’t work without respect of Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Yet the Letter of Intent for the Indonesia-Norway US$1 billion REDD deal makes no mention of Indigenous Peoples’ rights. No wonder Norway is now recommending that Indonesia ratifies ILO 169 and upholds Indigenous Peoples’ rights.

In a recent interview with REDD-Monitor, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, the head of the REDD+ Task Force, said that, “Here, everybody is indigenous”. Kuntoro added that he supports AMAN (Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara – Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago), but also explained that, “[I]f I move from Jakarta to somewhere in the middle of Central Kalimantan, I am becoming a local person as well.”

In September 2006, Marc L. Desjardins, then-Political Counsellor at the US Embassy in Jakarta, held a meeting with Jonny Sinaga, deputy director in the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Directorate for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs. Representatives from the Australian and New Zealand Embassies were also present. The purpose of the meeting was to lobby Indonesia not to support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was at the time in a draft form.

The cable that Desjardins wrote about the meeting was subsequently leaked by Wikileaks –#06JAKARTA12541. Sinaga expressed “at length” the Indonesian Government’s understanding of the points of view put forward by the US, Australia and New Zealand for opposing the Declaration and “suggested that Indonesia agreed with many of them.”  He then explained why Indonesia supported the Declaration anyway:

Indonesia interprets “self-determination” as not according any domestic group any right to pursue a separatist cause, adding that there are only 16 non-self-governing territories in the world recognized as such by the United Nations. The Vienna 1993 Program of Action on Human Rights made clear that self-determination does not encompass separatism. He added that in international documents there are at least five different recognized interpretations for self-determination. He suggested that the handicapped could be said to have the right to self-determination.

Indonesia believes that “indigenous people” deserve special protections, but added that all Indonesians are indigenous by definition;

Indonesia would be criticized by the international community as not supportive of human rights if it opposed this initiative;

The document has already been discussed for over ten years;

It is not final; and

Indonesia’s approach is “based on dialogue.”

Desjardins’ comment at the end of the cable fails to conceals his frustration:

Comment: Sinaga’s response made clear that Indonesia will support the document and will interpret it in any way necessary to ensure that it cannot be said to contradict Indonesian policy. Comparisons between the GOI’s exacting positions in negotiations on bilateral matters with its seeming lack of concern about the principles contained in the draft declaration gained no traction. In effect, the actual meaning of the draft declaration’s contents seemed essentially irrelevant to the conversation from the Indonesian perspective.

As Survival International points out, “The denial of the very existence of indigenous peoples in Indonesia is symptomatic of the government’s total disregard for their rights.”

None of this seems to bother the World Resources Institute, The Nature Conservancy or WWF, who last week awarded Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for his “leadership in recognizing the importance of natural resources and working to conserve them”. The three organisations held a dinner at the luxurious Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York City in honour of Yudhoyono. Andrew Steer, who recently moved from the World Bank to head WRI, spent eight years working in Indonesia. Perhaps he, along with TNC and WWF, just didn’t notice that Yudhoyono is President of a country that fails to uphold the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Or perhaps they just don’t care.