Posts Tagged ‘Indonesia’

Aug19

Land Tenure Risk

Residents of Maruwai Village in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia have filed a claim for legal title to 1,000 hectares of land within BHP Billiton’s IndoMet Coal project, under a new program that aims to recognize the customary land rights of Indigenous Peoples in the province.

According to an article in The Jakarta Globe, about half of the villagers oppose the project, and a community leader says they are “racing” against the company to protect their land. In response, BHP Billiton reported that the project “is within a government designated state forest area and therefore land compensation is not required by Government regulation.”

However, after an open and extensive consultation process with community representatives, IndoMet Coal provided a goodwill payment to enable the purchase of offsetting land and capacity building measures for community members. This was done with the agreement of the local community representatives.

Separately IndoMet Coal has worked with representatives of the Maruwai Village on a range of “community development initiatives.” Land is an extremely important issue for Indigenous Peoples. A company may have trouble acquiring community support if there are uncertainties surrounding land tenure and land use, regardless of how robust their community development or compensation schemes.

Sources: Business and Human Rights Resource Centre

Jun03

Papuans Excluded from Palm Oil Benefits

A report by the Center for International Forestry Research found that palm oil production in West Papua, Indonesia has brought economic benefits to some groups, but not Indigenous Papuans.

Many lack the skills needed for employment, and companies are hiring migrants from other parts of Indonesia rather than investing in local content. They are also reporting lost access to land and water, environmental degradation, and higher rates of disease.

Many palm oil estates in Indonesia are owned by smallholders or cooperatives that might be less familiar with good community engagement practices than larger companies. Larger companies can address this by holding smaller companies in their supply chain to the same social and environment standards that they hold to themselves.

Last year, institutional investors representing over $600 billion in assets under management called on the world’s largest palm oil users to adopt more responsible sourcing policies.

Sources: Farmlandgrab.org, Green Century Funds

Mar09

Transparency in the Supply Chain

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Wilmar International is publicly disclosing the names and locations of all its palm oil suppliers in Indonesia and Malaysia, two countries where palm oil production is devastating Indigenous lands. Wilmar is the first company in the palm oil industry to do so, and is being praised for implementing this unusually high level of supply chain transparency.

In December 2013, Wilmar adopted a Sustainability Policy committing to the full and demonstrable application of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent. It is too early to determine whether this policy has been fully implemented, but this indicates movement in the right direction. Wilmar has also developed a Sustainability Dashboard containing information on how it’s implementing the policy, and how grievances raised by communities are being addressed.

Sources: Eco-business

This post is excerpted from First Peoples Worldwide’s Corporate Monitor, a monthly report on key trends affecting companies interacting with Indigenous Peoples. To sign up for monthly e-mail updates, click here.

Nov26

RepRisk Reports on Indigenous Peoples

In September 2014, RepRisk published a report on “the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks businesses face in their encounters with Indigenous communities.” The report identified the sectors and countries that are most exposed to these risks, based on the RepRisk Index, which is a “quantitative risk measure that captures criticism and quantifies risk exposure related to ESG issues. It is based on the number and frequency of the risk incidents captured by RepRisk, the severity and novelty of the criticism or incident, as well as the source of the news.” RepRisk identified the most exposed sectors as food and beverage, forestry, mining, oil and gas, and utilities, and the most exposed countries as Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Peru, and the Philippines. Additionally, the report includes six case studies that “analyze the effects of hydropower in Brazil, tar sands in Canada, forestry in the Democratic Republic of Congo, mining in Guatemala, palm oil in Indonesia, and transgenic crop production in Paraguay.”

Sources: RepRisk

This post is excerpted from First Peoples Worldwide’s Corporate Monitor, a monthly report on key trends affecting companies interacting with Indigenous Peoples. To sign up for monthly e-mail updates, click here.

Nov10

PRESS RELEASE: The Indigenous Rights Risk Report

PRESS RELEASE
November 10, 2014
Contact: Katie Cheney, communications@firstpeoples.org
www.firstpeoples.org

 

The Indigenous Rights Risk Report: How Violating Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Increases Industry Risks

New report finds that US extractive companies expose shareholders to risks by neglecting Indigenous Peoples’ rights

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO – On November 10, First Peoples Worldwide released the Indigenous Rights Risk Report at the SRI Conference on Sustainable, Responsible, Impact Investing, a product of two years of consultations with investment analysts, industry professionals, and Indigenous Peoples. The report analyzes 52 U.S. oil, gas, and mining companies with projects operating on or near Indigenous territories around the globe, impacting some 150 Indigenous communities. These projects were assessed against five indicators (Country Risk, Reputation Risk, Community Risk, Legal Risk, and Risk Management) to determine their risk of Indigenous community opposition or violations of Indigenous Peoples’ rights. The report found that most of the U.S. extractive companies analyzed are poorly positioned to manage the risks they face when working on Indigenous lands. Furthermore, the Report shows that poor governance and negligible policies for Indigenous peoples in host countries is bad for business. Nearly 60% of all projects operating in high-risk countries were rated as high risks themselves. You can read the full report athttp://firstpeoples.org/indigenous-rights-risk-report.

When analyzing risks associated with the operating country, companies’ reputation, the engaged Indigenous community, legal action, and risk management, the report found that 35% of the 330 projects assessed had high risk exposure, and 54% had medium risk exposure. Despite these risks, the vast majority of companies and projects are exhibiting suboptimal efforts to establish positive relations with Indigenous communities, and 92% of the companies assessed do not address community relations or human rights at their board level in any formal capacity. Companies with high risk scores at 100% of their projects on or near Indigenous territories were Alpha Natural Resources, Kosmos Energy, Southwestern Energy, and Whiting Petroleum. Other companies with high risk scores at 50% or more of their projects on or near Indigenous territories were Anadarko Petroleum, Chevron Corporation, Continental Resources, Murphy Oil, Royal Gold, SM Energy, Southern Copper, and WPX Energy. A searchable database of the 330 oil, gas, and mining projects assessed under the new methodology is available on First Peoples’ website athttp://firstpeoples.org/wp/.

FPW also analyzed risks associated with Indigenous recognition by host governments, land rights, and community consultation, demonstrating how resource-rich countries’ negligible or non-existent policies towards Indigenous peoples affect the companies that work within their borders. This is becoming increasingly evident in Canada, Indonesia, Ecuador, Peru, and other emerging resource economies. In 2013, a consortium of Canadian leaders (including industry representatives) warned that Canada is “heading for a gridlock in energy development that will rob the country of future wealth unless it can solve vexing environmental and Aboriginal conflicts.” Indonesia has become saturated with violent resource conflicts, with more than 2,230 Indigenous communities requesting investigations into violations of their land rights. Also in 2013, auctions for oil and gas concessions in Ecuador and Peru encountered both vehement opposition from Indigenous Peoples and “underwhelming” interest from companies – raising speculations that the Indigenous protests influenced companies’ decisions. Poor governance is bad for business – governments that disregard Indigenous rights are propagating volatile business environments that threaten the viability of investments in their countries.

Not only are Indigenous voices becoming louder, the media spotlight on Indigenous Peoples and resource extraction is shining brighter: 126 projects were exposed to negative attention from the media in 2014. Legal risks are also becoming more prominent, as legal protections for Indigenous Peoples’ rights around the world continue to strengthen. Indigenous community opposition is an especially perilous investment risk because Indigenous Peoples have the international legal framework for Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) – the right for a community to give or withhold consent to projects that may affect their lands. Over the past several decades, Indigenous Peoples have secured unprecedented recognition of their rights from governments, but these impressive legal gains are matched with chronic gaps in implementation, especially as they relate to resource extraction. Using market forces to financially incentivize business practices that respect Indigenous Peoples’ rights – including the right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent – presents opportunities for communities to exert powerful leverage over corporations operating on or near their lands.

First Peoples Worldwide is an Indigenous-led organization that builds upon a foundation of Indigenous values and rights to achieve a sustainable future for all. Our Keepers of the Earth Fund provides grants directly to Indigenous-led development projects. Since 2007, we’ve given $1.7 million in grants to hundreds of Indigenous communities across 58 countries. Our corporate engagement program makes the business case for respecting and upholding Indigenous Peoples’ rights through vigilant monitoring of corporate practices, affecting policy change, and advocating best practices in Indigenous community engagement.

View the full report online at http://firstpeoples.org/indigenous-rights-risk-report.

Contact Katie Cheney at First Peoples Worldwide for media inquiries at (713) 560-6378 orcommunications@firstpeoples.org

Learn more about First Peoples Worldwide at www.firstpeoples.org.

 

IR3 FB Cover

Mar20

Boycott of the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous leaders are planning to boycott the upcoming UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, which is a “high-level plenary meeting of the UN General Assembly (UNGA)…to share perspectives and best practices on the realization of the rights of Indigenous Peoples.”  The conference, scheduled for September 2014, was originally going to be co-facilitated by an Indigenous representative and a state representative of equal footings.  In January 2014, at the behest of pressures from several states (namely China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Russia), the President of the UNGA demoted the Indigenous co-facilitator to the role of an Indigenous “advisor”, and appointed a second state co-facilitator in his place.  Without the full and equal participation of Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous leaders fear that the states will use the conference to undermine the principles set forth in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and many are renouncing their plans to attend.

Sources: Indian Country Today

Feb28

Upcoming Chico Vive Conference: The Legacy of Chico Mendes and the Global Grassroots Environmental Movement

Reposted from Cultural Survival

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Celebrating the legacy of Chico Mendes and the courage of thousands of present-day grassroots activists who follow in his footsteps.

April 4-6, 2014
School of International Service
American University, Washington, D.C.

Meet activists and experts from around the world to discuss and debate global environmental issues that affect all of us.

Brazilian environmental martyr and rural union leader Chico Mendes was killed in 1988. In the past 25 years grassroots activists in many places have mobilized to protect the environment and their communities from destruction. Every month someone like Chico Mendes is killed somewhere in the world as a result of nonviolent advocacy.

Activists and experts will meet at the Chico Vive conference to talk about Mendes’ legacy and their own efforts on the front lines of sustainability. The agenda will include keynote speakers from Brazil and the United States; grassroots panelists from Indonesia, Guatemala, and other countries; cultural performances; and a mini-film festival of documentaries about Chico Mendes and today’s grassroots environmental movements.

For more information contact Rabben@american.edu or Facebook.com/chico.vive, or call 301-270-3003. To pre-register for the conference go to www.chicovive.org.

The Chico Vive conference is cosponsored and funded by 20 nonprofit organizations, and foundations and other donors, including Cultural Survival:
American University Global Environmental Politics program (host), Action Aid, AIUSA Group 297, Amazon Watch, AU Center for Environmental Filmmaking, AU International Development Program Student Association, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Cultural Survival, EcoSense, Ford Foundation, Forest Peoples Programme, Georgetown University Environmental Law Society, Global Witness, Greenpeace, Heinrich Böll Foundation, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Oxfam America, Rainforest Action Network, Rainforest Foundation, University of Maryland Latin American Studies Center, and International Labor Rights Forum.

– See more at: http://www.culturalsurvival.org/news/chico-vive-legacy-chico-mendes-and-global-grassroots-environmental-movement#sthash.U7cRCNeV.dpuf

Oct04

HIV/AIDS Reaches Epidemic Levels in Indigenous Communities of Indonesia

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By Carole Reckinger & Antoine Lemaire, Cultural Survival 

The sun is slowly clearing the morning mist as we walk down a muddy path along the Uwe river in Wamena, the main highland town in Tanah Papua, Indonesia (western half of the island of New Guinea, the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua). We are led by Freddi*, an HIV outreach worker in his early 30s. The sound of men and women breaking rocks drifts towards us. Later in the day, they will load them into construction trucks. We climb over a stone wall and enter a family compound and a young girl invites us into her home, a highland hut of wooden walls and thatched roof. Inside it is dark and smoky and you can barely see the young man lying on a thin mattress in a corner. He is emaciated, his eyes, deep in their sockets, gaze into emptiness. Every so often, a rumbling cough shakes his chest. Between two coughing fits, Tarius* (23) tells us he has been unable to eat for days.

Freddi is very quick to assess Tarius’ condition: Tuberculosis and the risk of AIDS. “This is a common scenario,” he tells us “in our culture, one will only seek medical attention when it is impossible to get up.” HIV/AIDS is still a relatively new disease in the region, and people are still unaware of its modes of transmission and consequences. Although it holds only 1 percent of Indonesia’s population, Tanah Papua has HIV/AIDS levels reported to be 15 times higher than the national average. According to UNAIDS it is now considered a low level epidemic, with a prevalence of 2.4 percent among the general population versus a national average of 0.3 percent. Since the controversial inclusion of the western half of the island of New Guinea into Indonesia in 1969, social indicators in Papua remain the lowest in the country.

In Tanah Papua, the 260 or so Indigenous Papuan tribes make up less than half of the 3.6 million inhabitants. HIV prevalence among Indonesian migrants is much lower than among the Indigenous population who, in some areas make up almost 80 percent of the cases, The latest statistics for Tanah Papua indicates that 13,836 people are HIV positive. The disproportionate infection rates are particularly obvious in the highland region where the latest data gathered by NGOs and VCT centres in the Jayawijaya regency shows that 3,257 people had tested positive by the end of July 2013. Local NGOs estimate that you need to multiply the figure by ten to get closer to the real number of people already carrying the virus. Testing facilities are only available in urban areas and most of those who undergo testing do so because they are showing serious signs of reoccurring opportunistic diseases such as tuberculosis, dysentery or pneumonia, meaning that they are already at an advanced stage of the illness.

In Tanah Papua, transmission is almost entirely through heterosexual sex. Values about sex, courtship and pregnancy are being radically challenged by Indonesian migration, rapid and aggressive development and the dissolution of traditional ideals. Youth, young men in particular, have become highly mobile, drawn to the charms of the cities or in search of irregular wage labour or education. Increased mobility offers the opportunity for a larger number of sexual partners, far from the prying eyes of family and community. Furthermore, the changing cultural and socio-economic environment, as well as the influx of consumer commodities, have transformed relations and courtship between young Papuan men and women. There is now a trend towards sex at a younger age with a wider range of partners.

Confidentiality and stigma

Freddi takes Tarius to hospital and as we wait for the results, he reveals he is also HIV positive. “I think I contracted the virus around the year 2000 when I was living in Jayapura, the provincial capital. When I started getting ill, I returned to the highlands. Initially, my family was very supportive and helped me to pay for treatment. Testing for HIV in Wamena had not yet started, and doctors could not find the source of what made me weaker and weaker by the day. As Western medicine did not seem to help, my family turned to traditional medicine. This involved divination and a pig was killed to check its entrails for signs and according to what was found, I was made to follow a particular herbal treatment. But I was not getting better,” Freddi explains with a sad smile. “My family had to kill many pigs at great financial cost. Eventually the family and community became suspicious and some threatened to burn me alive. I knew that this had happened before and I got scared. I fled back to Jayapura and after entering hospital, I was eventually diagnosed with HIV.”

People might not be at risk of being burned alive anymore like some years ago, but the stigma attached to HIV is still strong. Some priests proclaim it a punishment of God on those who have sinned. Most churches are slow to tackle the problem, and it can still be difficult to find a priest to bury someone who has died of AIDS. Cultural values in the highlands of Papua are complex and differ from tribe to tribe, but the roots of stigma lie in cultural practice as much as they do in the larger macro-economic and political situation. The fear of stigmatization in the community stops people from sharing their experiences and makes them reluctant to get tested. Many of those who get a positive result do not return to the hospital and do not follow any treatment. Many keep it a secret from their family and partners. Once their condition begins to deteriorate seriously, many withdraw and isolate themselves.

In rural areas, health care services are few and far between. The majority of health care staff in the available centres are migrants from other parts of Indonesia who do not speak the local languages and have little affinities for Indigenous cultural beliefs and practices. Most Papuans view government health care services, which remain riddled with corruption, a lack of proper follow-up procedures and poor training for the staff, as part of the Indonesian colonial machinery. Rumours are ripe that HIV was introduced in order to decimate the Indigenous population. Trust towards government run hospitals is low and many will only go there as a last resort.

Negligence on a massive scale

“Until now there has been no serious action from the government but only lip service. HIV/AIDS has become an emergency and it is too late to sit back and do nothing,” declares David*, the head of a local NGO. “If we want to save the Indigenous population, and guarantee the survival of our people, then HIV prevention and treatment needs to become a priority in Tanah Papua.” David worries that most AIDS awareness raising campaigns are developed in offices in Jakarta, far from the cultural and socio-economic reality of Papua. “It would be more useful to look at Papua New Guinea and programmes there which have proven successful.” Instead, the official response to the crisis has been to inject large amounts of money into programs with a minimal amount of monitoring and preliminary research.

Visiting a few patients every day like Freddi does is helping a handful of people on a personal level, but a concerted, large-scale response by the government, with the involvement of local NGOs and community leaders has yet to happen. The poor standards or complete lack of health services and education throughout the region not only facilitate the spread of the disease, they also severely impede any efficient response to the epidemic. Indeed, although the provincial governments have made HIV testing and treatment free, many Papuans do not have access to health care or education and are unlikely to be reached by awareness raising campaigns any time soon.

The long running political conflict and the climate of mistrust and fear it has created coupled to a culture of apathy within the government bureaucracy and large parts of the population, partly brought about by an education system reminiscent of Indonesia’s Suharto era that fails to teach students to be critical and proactive, is making it difficult for local activists to get a popular movement started. What is needed is a prevention campaign based on Papua’s Indigenous cultural values and its particular socio-economic context that involves the whole community and gives it ownership of the awareness-raising and prevention processes. The Indonesian government – national, provincial and local – however, has a duty of care. Its present lack of effective, accountable assistance to thousands of Indigenous Papuans is paramount to negligence on a massive scale.

*All names in this article have been changed

Carole Reckinger (carole81@gmail.com) has been interested in Indigenous Rights and Indonesian/Papuan social and political issues since first visiting the archipelago over a decade ago while studying Development Studies and Southeast Asian studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). She has lived and worked in different parts of Indonesia, including Wamena and Jayapura and is visiting Papua regularly since.

Antoine Lemaire (antoinelemaire@gmail.com) studied Social Anthropology at SOAS. He has lived and worked in different parts of Indonesia and Papua. He is particularly interested in the impact of capitalism on material culture in Indigenous societies.

Their photographic work on the HIV Epidemic in Tanah Papua can be viewed here www.carolereckinger.co.uk.

(Photo: a volunteer explains the virus using appropriate cultural references. Courtesy of Carol Reckinger)

Aug16

Indonesia Strengthens Indigenous Land Rights

In May 2013, an Indonesian court ruled that a 1999 law designating forests inhabited by Indigenous Peoples as “State Forest Areas” was unconstitutional, and that these forests should be owned and managed by Indigenous Peoples’ themselves.  The National Indigenous Peoples Organization estimates that the ownership transfer will affect over 30 percent of the country’s forests, while government officials claim that the land affected by the ruling will be far lower.  The process for the delineation of Indigenous territories is likely to take time and generate conflict, given the tense relationship between Indigenous Peoples and the Indonesian government. In 2012, police brutality against Indigenous Peoples was reported in the provinces of East Java, East Kalimantan, Maluku, North Sumatra, South Sumatra, West Nusa Tenggara, and West Papua.

Regardless, the ruling weakens the Indonesian government’s capacity to grant concessions to companies for extractive projects, while enhancing the legal validity of Indigenous Peoples’ demands for FPIC.  In order to remain competitive in their bids for the wealth of natural resources on Indigenous territories in Indonesia, companies will need to take approaches that prioritize the interests of Indigenous communities.

Sources: Asia One, Mongabay, IWGIA

Jul30

Indigenous Peoples in Indonesia Scapegoats for Forest Fires

In June, 2013,  burning Sumatran forests produced a haze that darkened Southeast Asian skies for hundreds of miles. The haze billowed and drifted from its origin point in Riau Province, Indonesia, and made air unbreathable in cities and towns of several countries, including Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, and Thailand. The province itself was severely affected as fires raged in the Riau peatlands, smoldering from a depth of four meters below surface level in some areas. According to the Center for International Forestry Research, much of the damaged area was natural forest cover. Palm and acacia plantations in the region often employ burning techniques to clear land of old growth, but the fires frequently get out of control. This is believed to have been the case this year in Riau.

The fire was suspected to have been started June 9th on land intended for palm oil production in the Bengkalis Regency. Though the origins of the fire are unknown, allegations of illegal slash-and-burn clearing have surfaced against both local farmers and multinational corporations operating in the province.

The affected areas are home to Indonesia’s Indigenous Melayu peoples, descendants of the great Melayu kingdoms that once covered large areas of Kalimantan (Borneo), Sumatra, and the entire Malay peninsula.  Contract laborers from other regions in Indonesia (including other Melayu ethnic sub-groups from North Sumatra and eastern Kalimantan) also maintain residence in affected areas as workers for the industries involved in resource extraction.

These local residents were and continue to be disproportionately affected by the fires, yet most national and international media coverage has focused on the effects of the haze in the wealthy city-state of Singapore, located less than 150 miles (240 kilometers) from Riau across the Strait of Malacca. A major concern for local residents and activist organizations has been smoke inhalation; some families are too impoverished to purchase face masks. Homes and villages have also burned. Transporting water to the fire sites to fight the flames has also been a challenge in the most rural areas of Riau, though local firefighters have been praised for their efforts.

In late June, Indonesian police began arresting local farmers they believed to be responsible for the blazes. At least eight local farmers were arrested by June 25, and ten more were in custody as of June 28. A police spokesman stated that the farmers were not connected to any of the dozens of concession holders (inter- or multinational corporations) working in the region. On June 30, the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) and the Indonesian Aliansi Gerakan Reforma Agraria (the Alliance of Agrarian Reform Movement, AGRA) released a statement claiming that the farmers were “sacrificial lambs” arrested by the provincial police in order to protect the palm oil companies. According to the official APC-AGRA statement, the immediate and unconditional release of the eighteen farmers as well as “genuine agrarian reform” for the nation are necessary next steps. The organizations represent Indigenous peoples and agricultural workers in various Asian countries and support agrarian reforms which grant land ownership to the tillers, among other initiatives.

According to the Bengkalis Regency disaster management agency, annual fires cause industries to abandon their devastated crops on a regular basis. New, naive companies then come into Riau and purchase the plantation lands at a greatly reduced price, unaware of the potential for ravaging fires basically guaranteed in the following dry season. Logic would suggest that economically disadvantaged local farmers, Indigenous and migrant, might be desperate enough for cash to set clearing fires at the request of a corporation offering a comparatively large sum to do the job; an average salary for Sumatran farmers ranges between US$10-20 monthly. The farmers would bear the burden of blame if the fires did not burn as planned, regardless of who hired them and was, therefore, the responsible party. The APC and AGRA have explained that clearing by burning costs approximately US$200-300 per hectare (ha), whereas other methods not requiring burning can be as expensive as US$1,500/ha. So far, 16,500 ha have burned in Riau this year.

Indigenous peoples around the world have relied on slash-and-burn farming techniques for subsistence farming for thousands of years. When done with careful rotation and sufficient time for land recovery, the practice is relatively sustainable. However, Indigenous populations without land titles to ensure access and facilitate rotation plans often use slash-and-burn techniques on new lands more frequently. This is particularly true if they are trying to survive intrusion from outside forces, such as colonization or the modern condition of extractive industry intrusion. In the case of Indonesia, the federal transmigration program has also put pressure on Indigenous farmers in Sumatra. Over-crowding in other regions within the country prompted tens of thousands of migrants to move to remote areas of the country in order to create infrastructure and make use of fertile land.

Fifty years of intense transmigration has contributed to Sumatran deforestation and put the livelihoods of Indigenous inhabitants, including the ethnic Melayu and Sumatran forest dwellers, at risk. The large swaths of land previously occupied by Indigenous populations have been parceled off and titled to migrants. The federal transmigration program and concessions to corporations have left few options for traditional farmers. In Riau, if allegations against a corporation are ultimately unverifiable, a small-scale farmer could be implicated as reponsible for the destruction and the haze. However, the systemic issues at play in the region demonstrate that the guilt could not possibly rest with an individual farmer or a small group of individuals.

Regardless of whether a local farmer, corporate-sponsored slash-and-burn negligence, or a single careless smoker started the fires, the Indonesian government has leveled allegations against at least one of the many large firms operating in Riau. The suspect is PT ADEI Plantation and Industry, a subsidiary of Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhard (KLK), and the charge is illegal burning practices within their 14,000+ha concession area. The firm will be brought to suit on charges of environmental damage. According to the Jakarta Post, other companies in the area were implicated in the fires, but proof of illegal activities has only been found in PT ADEI concession areas. The charges were announced officially on July 11, sixteen days after KLK released a statement affirming their compliance with the ASEAN zero burning policies.

Indonesian environmentalists have put blame on the government for failing to respond quickly enough and for not building the capacity of local law enforcement to stop farmers from taking part in slash-and-burn activities, both on the small scale and in the cases they are hired by large corporations to burn within concessions. Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) has issued apologies to Singapore and Malaysia for the haze and lawmakers have visited Riau to explore fire prevention strategies with local officials.

Neither the Indonesian government nor any representative of PT ADEI/KLK have issued any apology to the local populations affected by the fires or the haze. No word has yet surfaced about the fate of the 18 farmers arrested last month. If Indigenous Melayu farmers had been practicing the slash-and-burn techniques commonly seen in small-scale farming around the globe, they could indeed be unjustly sacrificed to protect the interests of corporations also implicated in or responsible for the disaster. Multiple questions are raised through an examination of this case: How can small-scale Indigenous farmers in modern Sumatra be supported in transitioning to more sustainable farming practices? How can the negative impacts of the federal transmigration program be reduced? How can extractive corporations operating in Indonesia be held responsible for their transgressions against the land and regional Indigenous populations? We hope that the lawsuit against PT ADEI / KLK facilitates greater action towards protecting tropical forests and Indigenous peoples in Riau and across the whole of the Indonesian archipelago.

(Photo: “Indonesian fires cause record smog”, courtesy of Ulet Ifansasti/Getty and Financial Times.)