Muhammad Syukron Anshori is a scholarship participant in the Australia Awards in Indonesia program short course, 'Human Rights Leadership to Influence Policy'. He is the Head of Media and Information on Indigenous People’s Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) Sumbawa, NTB, and a Lecturer at Sumbawa University of Technology.
Muhammad Syukron Anshori
According to the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), Indonesia is home to an estimated 50 to 70 million Indigenous peoples or 18% to 19% of the Indonesian population.
While Indonesia has a law that “recognises and respects the unity and integrity of the Indigenous and tribal peoples”, the reality is that recognition and respect for the nation’s Indigenous peoples are still far below expectations.
Although Indonesia is a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), government officials argue that the concept of Indigenous peoples is not applicable to the country, rejecting calls for them to consider the specific needs of groups that identify themselves as Indigenous. The UN Committee on Racial Discrimination has expressed its concern that Indonesia is not respecting the principle of Indigenous self-identification.1
The International Labour Organization’s Convention 169, the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention also provides guidance on the right of Indigenous peoples’ self-determination but unfortunately Indonesia has not ratified this treaty.
There remains much work to be done in Indonesia on Indigenous peoples’ rights. Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (AMAN) is an independent community organisation with a vision to create a just and prosperous life for all Indigenous peoples in Indonesia, with political sovereignty, economic independence and cultural dignity. AMAN works at local, national and international levels to represent and advocate for Indigenous peoples' issues. As of January 2021, AMAN comprised 2,422 Indigenous communities and represented an estimated 20 million Indigenous people.
AMAN, together with other stakeholders, has been campaigning for the acceleration of the passage of a bill on the recognition and protection of Indigenous and tribal peoples in Indonesia. The bill has been in the legislative system since 2009 but is currently paralysed. The issue of Indigenous people’s rights in Indonesia only seems to arise at politically opportune times in the presidential election cycle. In 2014, in his first election, President Joko Widodo promised the more than 50 million Indigenous peoples in Indonesia that he would speed up the bill process, but this promise remains unfulfilled.
The legislation is important because there are significant gaps between laws and practices in Indonesia with respect to the rights of Indigenous peoples. The loss of land and livelihood as a result of new government concessions for plantations or mining is common practice.
AMAN has made a strong statement to the government arguing that, "we do not recognise the state if the state does not recognise us". This statement has become an important way for Indigenous peoples to encourage the government to recognise and respect all their rights.
We believe recognition of Indigenous peoples’ rights in Indonesia has important consequences for three specific rights:
- The right to gain recognition, protection and respect for community territory. When decisions are made about forests and ancestral lands, communities must have the right to free, prior and informed consent. From the perspective of Indigenous peoples, forests are not only land, trees and rivers, but also a life history where traditional values are preserved. Yet from January to May in 2020, it is estimated that 1,488 hectares of forest in West Papua disappeared..
- The right to be free from violence. The battle to protect the forest often leads to serious and sometimes fatal conflicts. Community activities must be supported by the government and their leaders not criminalised for defending their land and forests. AMAN’s 2020 end-of-year report documented at least 40 cases of criminalisation and violence against Indigenous peoples. as well as more than 39,000 Indigenous people who have suffered economic, social and moral losses because of acts of intimidation, violence, and criminalisation.
- The rights to education and culture. Indigenous knowledge systems and practices have been passed down the generations for thousands of years, through ritual, storytelling, observing, listening, weaving, hunting, planting, cooking, and dreaming, among others. This cultural inheritance is threatened when Indigenous rights are not respected.
A great nation respects the culture, history and leadership of its Indigenous peoples. AMAN urges President Joko Widodo and the Indonesian House of Representatives to immediately ratify the Bill on Indigenous Peoples (RUU MHA). The ratification of this law will help restore and protect the rights of Indigenous peoples in Indonesia and will set a positive benchmark in the global community in dealing with human rights issues.
1. UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Formal Communication to the Government of Indonesia, 30 April 2021, UN Doc CERD/EWUAP/103rd session/2021/MJ/CS/ks.