Pressure on Jokowi as Indonesian tribe leaders slam progress of rights pledges
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Pressure on Jokowi as Indonesian tribe leaders slam progress of rights pledges

LEADERS of Indonesia’s indigenous communities aired their disappointment with the government during their fifth national congress near Medan in North Sumatra, accusing President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo of failing to deliver on promises that helped him win the last presidential contest.

The Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago or AMAN (an acronym that also translates from Indonesian as ‘secure’), has 2332 member communities and 115 Local Chapters making it the world’s largest indigenous rights alliance.

At the congress it elected a new secretary general, former deputy head Rukka Sombolinggi, who was obstinate in her criticism of the Indonesian government’s lack of progress on meeting its promises.

“Our rights are not a gift. They belong to us,” she declared.

The congress, also known as the Congress of Indigenous People of the Archipelago or “KMAN V”, was held between March 13 and 21, discussing shared priorities for communities across Indonesia and celebrating the many cultures of one of the most diverse nations on earth.


Indigenous leaders from Aceh to Papua line up at the Congress of Indigenous People of the Archipelago. Source: AMAN

AMAN estimates there are some 50 to 70 million indigenous people across the vast nation of Indonesia, many of whom have long been denied legal rights to the land on which they have lived for generations.

Indonesia’s era of Reformasi or democratisation has provided political space for groups like AMAN to fight for indigenous rights, although progress in securing traditional land ownership to date has been limited.

SEE ALSO: Indonesia’s land rights decision a major victory for indigenous peoples

Already under pressure to take action, Jokowi further disappointed activists when he cancelled his scheduled visit to congress.

The president reportedly offered that indigenous leaders could meet him at the presidential palace on March 21. The incumbent secretary general Rukka expressed frustration with Jokowi, asking, “what’s the point? We are not children, we will not be impressed by the president’s house.”

Mongabay reported that AMAN’s outgoing secretary general Abdon Nababan similarly expressed exasperation with Jokowi for delays on delivering campaign promises although he added that the alliance would continue to support the administration.

AMAN has prepared a submission for Indonesia’s hearing at the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) during April and May 2017 in which it claims “all the [president’s] commitments are yet to be realised.”

The government has yet to make good on its commitment to develop a special taskforce for indigenous rights. The president’s stand-in at KMAN V, Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar, had to inform indigenous leaders for a second time since 2015 that a taskforce is not forthcoming.

AMAN’s submission to the UPR also notes that Indonesia has not adopted a Law on Recognition and Protection of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

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In January, Jokowi made the historical move of returning 13,000 hectares of tanah adat or customary land to nine indigenous communities in North Sumatra.

In 2013, AMAN won a case in the country’s Constitutional Court in favour of a community’s rights to hutan adat – customary forest – previously claimed as state land.

“It was only a start and not the end of this struggle,” Siti Nurbaya told the congress last week.

Rukka, however, said: “Thirteen-thousand hectares is small part of our rights. We respect his intentions, but we expect millions of hectares.”

The village of Tanjung Gusta was chosen as the location for the 2017 congress because it is home to a range of Indonesia’s many ethnic groups including Malay, Batak, Minang, Javanese and Manado, as well as both a mosque and church, and thus embodies Indonesia’s ‘unity in diversity’.

The next KMAN congress will be held in the province of Papua in 2022.