Friday, March 19, 2010

Tough week for Sinar Mas

from Ayu Oktaviani

Sinar Mas, Indonesia’s largest oil palm company which has come under considerable criticism for its palm oil operations in recent years, was handed two significant defeats this week.

Food giant Nestlé found itself on the defensive, with the release of a report from Greenpeace criticizing the company for buying palm oil from Sinar Mas. This comes three months after the largest buyer of palm oil, Unilever, announced that it would no longer be purchasing palm oil from Sinar Mas, followed a month later by a similar announcement from Kraft Foods. Nestlé’s immediate response that Sinar Mas palm oil was only used in products sold on the domestic market, a practice that they would discontinue, showed how controversial Sinar Mas has become. Western consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about palm oil plantations that have been clearing forests across the archipelago, destroying local habitats, particularly in Sumatera, Borneo and Papua where most of the remaining rainforests are located in Indonesia.  

A much less reported victory for local resistance against oil palm happened on March 18 in West Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). Two local indigenous leaders, Japin and Vitalis Andi, were released from custody after spending more than three weeks in a Ketapang jail for opposing a Sinar Mas oil palm plantation which is destroying indigenous lands. 

The case began in April 2008, when PT. Bangun Nusa Mandiri (PT. BNM), a subsidiary of Sinar Mas, began clearing land for an oil palm plantation in the Marau Subdistrict of Ketapang, West Kalimantan. By September 2009, the company had destroyed 250 hectares of land traditionally held by the Jalai Dayak people in Silat Hulu village.

From the start, the community refused to hand over their fields to the company, and made various attempts to negotiate with the company directly and through the local government, but to no effect. On September 28, 2009, Mr. Japin from Silat Hulu reported the company to the local Marau police office on behalf of his community. The next day, about 60 people from Silat Hulu collectively confiscated two bulldozers and a theodolite from PT. BNM in an effort to stop the clearing. The community soon gave the theodolite over to the police, but continued to hold the heavy equipment as evidence in their case against PT. BNM. 

The community also applied traditional justice mechanisms to the company, demanding financial compensation for trees and other vegetation that had been cleared as well as refusing the company further entry to their lands. The company ignored these demands and the traditional legal system. The community continued to look for justice, and on October 26, 2009, Luhai Hartanto, B, Ritung and Japin, on behalf of the indigenous people of Silat Hulu, brought the case to the West Kalimantan delegate for the Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), and to the provincial police department of West Kalimantan. 

On October 15, fully-armed local police came to Silat Hulu, to secure the peace and negotiate a settlement between the villagers and the Sinar Mas subsidiary. The police did not flatly reject the community-imposed penalty, but attempted to renegotiate the compensation amount for plots destroyed by PT. BNM. The community agreed to reduce the monetary compensation from 1.3 billion Rupiah to 510 million Rupiah (US$ 140,000 to US$55,000), in the hope of a quick resolution, with assurances that the police would push for PT BNM to resolve the case. 

Jakarta NGOs Reject the Plan to Train Kopassus

New statement by Jakarta NGOs call for U.S. not to resume training of Kopassus. They focus on the case of the disappeared in 1997-98 which "is still in limbo with no clarity on what will happen although a plenary session of the Indonesian Parliament (DPR) adopted four recommendations for implementation by the Indonesian government."
All this discussion about ending the ban on programes of joint collaboration is a sign that the government regards these past incidents as having been resolved, while nothing has been done to restore the rights of the victims or punish those who were responsible.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

ETAN's Open Letter to Obama on Indonesia and Timor-Leste

This morning before President Obama postponed - yet again - his trip to Indonesia, ETAN sent a letter urging him "to usher in a new era in the relationship between our two nations -- to replace a relationship based largely on militarism with one that respects human rights and promotes the rule of law." The new date is now  June.

Read the full letter here.

AP Photo.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Write Letters to the Editor on Obama's Trip to Indonesia

Sample Letters to Editor on President Obama's Visit to Indonesia

Soon President Obama will leave for his first trip to Indonesia as U.S. President. Letters to the editor are often the most widely-read section of newspapers, especially by decision-makers. Try to keep your letter to about 200 -250 words and be sure to include your full name, address, and telephone number when submitting the letter to the newspaper. If possible, include a local angle or directly respond to an article or opinion published in the paper. The more timely your response, the more likely it is to be published. Contact John M. Miller, or 718-596-7668, if you would like some help with your letter. Please send us copies of your letters, published and unpublished.

Adapt, mix and match the text below. Use it in responses to online posting of articles and in blogs. Adapt the letters to your own words.

Letter #1

For Publication

To the Editor

The Obama administration is currently negotiating a "comprehensive partnership" with Indonesia that the President plans to sign on his upcoming trip. The partnership claims to strengthen Indonesia's democratic reforms, but increased military assistance will do the opposite.

When Indonesia was a dictatorship, the U.S. was the Indonesian military's chief supplier. Military assistance was only cut off in 1999, during the Indonesian military's rampage in East Timor after it voted for independence.

Nearly all types of assistance have been restored since then, even though those responsible for human rights crimes in East Timor and elsewhere in the region have yet to face justice. Instead, reform efforts have stalled and many officers responsible for past crimes have been promoted to prominent positions. The Indonesian military continues to threaten the rule of law.

Of special concern is a proposal to resume training Indonesia's Kopassus special forces. Training such notorious human rights violators will undermine the "Leahy law," which prohibits assisting units with unresolved human rights violations. The law is meant to prevent future abuses, as well as encourage the resolution of past violations, which has not happened.

President Obama may eloquently promote democracy and civilian rule in Indonesia, but by providing military assistance now, he will be endorsing business as usual.

Your Name, Address, Phone/E-mail

  President Obama meets Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, November 2009.

Letter #2

President Obama will soon return to Indonesia, his former childhood home. In his memoir, The Audacity of Hope, he wrote about the negative influence that the U.S. had on "the fate" of Indonesia, with policies that included "the tolerance and occasional encouragement of tyranny, corruption, and environmental degradation when it served our interests."

President Obama will certainly praise Indonesia's democratic progress since the overthrow of Suharto, the Indonesian dictator who ruled the country when Obama lived there. If he truly wants to promote further democratic change, he must publicly acknowledge the U.S. role in supporting Suharto's tyranny. During that time, the U.S. was Indonesia's major weapons supplier and gave its approval to the annexations of East Timor and West Papua. This might make some of his domestic critics and Indonesian hosts -- many of whom loyally served President Suharto --  uncomfortable. But a blunt acknowledgement of this history will resonate with Suharto's many victims.

President Obama must not offer military assistance, especially to Indonesia's Kopassus special forces. These shock troops of Suharto's repression have not been held accountable for their notorious abuses in Indonesia, East Timor, West Papua and elsewhere. The Indonesian military remains largely unaccountable for its past and current human rights violations, and efforts at reform have back-tracked in recent years. U.S. law requires that the U.S. not train military units with bad human rights records until there have been real efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice. Training Kopassus violates the law.

Your Name, Address, Phone and E-mail

Letter #3

To the Editor

More than a decade ago, on August 30, 1999, the East Timorese people voted overwhelmingly to end the Indonesian rule in their country. The Indonesian military -- trained and armed by U.S. -- and its paramilitary allies exacted brutal vengeance in a bloody exit to a 24-year invasion and occupation that took up to 180,000 lives.

When President Obama goes to Indonesia, he should acknowledge the U.S. responsibility in this sordid history and press Indonesia to cooperate with credible trials of those who ordered the rapes, torture and killings. He should also withhold military assistance until Indonesia has done so.

Past efforts to hold these generals accountable have gone nowhere. Many of them remain powerful in government or retirement. The East Timor government, fearing retaliation, is unwilling to stand up to up to its much larger neighbor.

During the 10th anniversary of the 1999 independence referendum, Indonesia pressured East Timor government to release a recently-arrested former militia leader Martenus Bere, "without charge, trial, or proper court authorization," according to the U.S. State Department's recent human rights report. UN-backed prosecutors had indicted him for his role in a massacre at a church. 30 civilians, including three priests, died

U.N. investigators and others have proposed a UN international tribunal to try those who organized and carried these brutal crimes. While in Indonesia, President Obama should announce his support for a tribunal and work with the Security Council to bring these perpetrators to justice.


Your Name, Address, Phone/E-mail

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

WPAT: Statement on International Crisis Group report - and its coverage

West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT): Statement on International Crisis Group report - and its coverage

Contact: Ed McWilliams,

March 16, 2010 --The International Crisis Group published a report, "Indonesia: Radicalization and Dialogue in Papua," on March 11 which purports to depict the growing radicalization of some Papuan groups and consequent increases in violence there. The report usefully calls for dialogue between the Indonesian Government and Papuans and for an end to restrictions on access to Papua by journalists and researchers. However, the report fundamentally misrepresents the reality in Papua (West Papua) insofar as it ascribes growing violence there to Papuan "radicals." The principal impetus toward violence continues to be the persistent and accelerating deterioration of conditions affecting Papuans.

The report ignores continued violation of Papuan human rights and the unaccountability of their security force persecutors; the marginalization of Papuans who face resumption of ethnic cleansing under the rubric of "transmigration; as well as the devastation of Papua's natural resources under the guise of development. Specifically, although the report condemns the use of the label "separatist' to "taint" Papuan activists, no where does the lengthy report describe or acknowledge the daily consequences of policies which entail legal and extra-legal intimidation, harassment and worse for Papuans who assert their rights.

The report similarly ignores the fear among nearly all Papuans that government subsidized "migration" to Papua by non-Melanesian Indonesians will within this generation make Papuans a minority in their own homeland. While the report focuses heavily on Papuan animosity toward the Freeport-McMoran gold and copper mining enterprise, there is no attention to the vast environmental devastation wrought by those mining activities. Similarly, new "development" schemes promoted by Jakarta which stand to expropriate vast tracks of privately owned Papuan land for palm oil and food-for-export plantations to be farmed by non-Papuans are nowhere discussed.

read the rest here

see also

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Rally for imprisoned West Papua activists before Obama's trip to Indonesia

The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network today participated in a demonstration called by Amnesty International in support of Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage, political prisoners held by Indonesia for waving the Morning Star flag in a 2004 West Papuan independence rally. Approximately twenty people spent almost two hours rallying in the rain in Lafayette Park across from the White House. Speakers included Folabi Olagbaju of Amnesty International (featured above) and Karen Orenstein of the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (featured below).

Activists at the rally called for Obama to pressure Indonesia on human rights abuses and disregard for freedom of speech, particularly the cases of Karma and Pakage, during his upcoming trip to Indonesia. Information on the rally can be found here, and information on the case of Karma and Pakage can be found here.

With the release of Karma and Pakage at the center of the rally, activists also called for halting U.S. plans to again train Kopassus, the notorious Indonesian special forces who have a long-record of human rights violations. ETAN has been in the press of late for its comments against re-engaging Kopassus (see post from March 11th below),  and more than 1500 people have signed ETAN's petition against re-engaging Kopassus.

The Obama administration is expected to announce a renewal of relations with Kopassus during the president's upcoming trip to Indonesia, which begins March 21st. Reportedly, high-level Kopassus officers recently met with administration officials in Washington in the lead-up to Obama's trip to discuss renewed relations. Recent ETAN comments against military relations with Indonesia can be found here, and comments specifically regarding Obama's trip and re-engagement with Kopassus can be found here.