Indonesia: Harapan vows to protect indigenous groups, rights

Jon Afrizal, The Jakarta Post 7 Dec 15;

The management of Harapan rainforest in Sumatra has pledged to protect human rights and empower local communities while carrying out its operations.

PT Restorasi Ekosistem Indonesia (Reki) president director Effendy A. Sumardja, whose company is charged with the restoration of Harapan rainforest, said such a commitment would guide the company’s future operations.

“This commitment will ensure that the restoration of the forest’s ecosystem will improve of the life of local people,” Effendy said recently.

Harapan rainforest, spanning 101,000 hectares (ha) and located in the provinces of Jambi and South Sumatra, is part of the remaining low-plain forests in Sumatra.

It straddles the four regencies of Batanghari, Muaro Jambi and Sarolangun in Jambi and Musi Banyuasin in South Sumatra.

The area is currently being reforested to replenish damaged forest. The area was formerly a timber concession.

To implement the commitment, Effendy said his company would settle potential conflicts with local communities in an active and transparent manner by involving all relevant stakeholders, including local government and community leaders.

This approach, he continued, would help the company secure approval for its operations from local communities under the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) principle.

“The management of Harapan rainforest respects and recognizes the customary and individual rights of indigenous communities over land that they have maintained for a long time,” he said.

As many as 48.8 million people and 30,000 villages around and inside Indonesian forests do not have access to forest management, according to data from the Environment and Forestry Ministry.

The Indigenous People’s Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) reported that 143 customary land disputes were raised throughout the country last year.

Data from the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), meanwhile, revealed that last year, the commission received some 1,400 complaints related to land disputes that involved police and corporations.

This year alone, the government plans to give 2.5 million ha of forest to local people. The government argues that the redistribution of forest will prevent conflict and create justice in forest management, which has long been dominated by large companies.

Separately, Hanni Hadiati, a staff member for the environment and forestry minister, applauded Reki’s commitment to upholding the rights of indigenous communities.

“This effort will help build dialogue to map out problems within the concession area,” Hanni said.

Jambi Forestry Agency official Wahyu Widodo also shared a similar view, saying that such an effort would help create social balance in the rainforest for the next few decades.

“Forest concessions, like natural production forest concessions [HPH] and industrial forest permits [HTI], are usually driven to produce economic [benefits]. Harapan rainforest, however, is managed differently. It exists in order to restore the ecosystem,” he said.

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