Indigenous people want control of their forests

Indigenous peoples across Indonesia have high hopes that the new government will award them the management of customary forests.

Chalid Muhammad, the Management Board Chairman of the Association for Community and Ecologically-based Law Reform (Perkumpulan HuMa), said on Wednesday that a lot of indigenous people depended on the forests for their livelihoods, but had difficulty accessing them due to a lack of specific regulations.

In March 2012, the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) filed a judicial review request with the Constitutional Court, accusing the government of frequently violating the rights of indigenous peoples by enforcing state control of customary forests.

In its request, AMAN cited data from the Forestry Ministry and the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) listing 31,957 villages whose residents interacted with the forest; 71 percent of the villages depended on forest resources.

In mid-2013, the Constitutional Court granted the request and stipulated that customary forests no longer belonged to the state. There are now two categories of forest: state forests and public forests, with the latter again divided into two: customary forests and individual forests.

Chalid claimed, however, that the government had failed to implement the court’s decision.

He cited two benefits of returning management of forests to the people.

“The first benefit would be the subsequent lower rates of deforestation,” he said.

The second one, said Chalid, was the improvement of indigenous people’s welfare, adding, furthermore, to Indonesia’s economic growth.

Zulfikar Arma from Aceh’s Indigenous Communities Network said that the government was reluctant to hand over forest to the people because of fears of overexploitation.

“We think that the government still worries that the forests will disappear if they are handed over to the people, but that won’t happen,” he said.

Zulkifar said that indigenous people were wise, and would not overexploit the forests that they relied on.

Chalid said that forest management had failed in the hands of corporations, without even any economic benefits, adding that the vast majority of forests were still managed by corporations.

“More than 90 percent of forest management in Indonesia is conducted by corporations,” he said. “This causes high rates of deforestation, conflict and environmental degradation, as well as poverty in the communities that live in the forest regions.”

HuMa Program Coordinator Nurul Firmansyah added that the indigenous people were ready to manage the forests, but their lack of formal recognition meant they had no legal basis on which to manage the forests.

The outgoing House of Representatives recently failed to pass a bill on the recognition and protection of the rights of indigenous people (PPHMA) into law.

Democratic Party lawmaker Himmatul Alyah Setiawaty, who led the House’s special committee on the bill deliberation, blamed the government’s lack of support for the failure of the bill.

She claimed that the government, supposed to be represented by the forestry minister, had never once attended the deliberation process. (ask)



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