Scale Up, an Indonesian partner of Forest Peoples Programme, has been monitoring the evolution of social conflict in Indonesian oil palm plantations over recent years. Studies on conflict over natural resources in Riau province conducted by this partner over the last four years have shown a trend towards an increase in frequency and extent of disputed land each year, with a slight decline in 2010. Based on Scale Up’s annual report of 2007, 111,745 hectares of land in the Riau area were subject to conflicting claims to natural resources, an area which increased to 200,586 hectares in 2008 and to 345,619 hectares in 2009. In 2010, the disputed land area decreased slightly to 342,571 hectares, compared to 2009. This was largely due to the fact that a large number of disputed areas and ensuing conflicts in that year were not identified or documented.
It is important to note that this study also found that the land conflicts that occurred in 2010 were not new, but rather had already erupted in previous years and effectively re-surfaced in 2010 because they had not been successfully resolved. Scale Up’s 2009 study identified that at least 170,049 hectares (approximately nearly 50%) of land were the object of ongoing and unresolved dispute over several years.
Some cases of conflict documented in 2010 are reported to have spanned nearly two decades. This was the case for 844 hectares of land disputed by PT Surya Bratasena Plantation (PT SBP) and four villages in Pangkalan Kuras District (Batang Kulim, Dundangan, Sorek Sorek 1 and 2). What this reveals is that conflicts and violence witnessed and experienced by local communities in today’s oil palm plantations are the fruit of a long history of disputes, grievances and unresolved injustices.
Few conflicts were successfully resolved in 2010. Scale Up identified only one such case, this being the conflict between the villagers of Penyaguhan Gangsal Trunk Subdistrict, Inhil and company PT Duta Palma. This conflict had been ongoing since 2000 and was only resolved ten years later, when the company finally agreed to the demands of the citizens for an enclave of land of 3,000 hectares out of the 14,000 hectares of land which the company had obtained licenses for. Such protracted processes of negotiation and conflict resolution raise considerable concern over the power dynamics involved between companies and local communities, as well as the lack of redress mechanisms available to Indonesian oil palm workers and smallholders in Riau province. Radical action at the local, regional and national levels are vital to secure their rights, protect their livelihoods and prevent the outbreak of further violence.What kind of land is being disputed?Of the 342,571 hectares of disputed land identified by Scale Up in 2010, 67.28% were areas classified as production forests, 8.18% were in conservation/protected forests and 24.54% were in plantation areas. This means that the land disputes in 2010 were more prevalent in the area of production forests (see diagram 2).
This confirms the findings of FKPMR (Riau Community Leaders Forum) which listed at least 77% of the 66 land conflicts as having occurred in production forest areas from 2003-2007 (Litbangdata FKPMR 2007). Similarly, studies by Scale Up in 2009 reported that 75.9% of the conflicts in Riau occurred in the forestry sector (Scale Up 2009).As for the relation of these conflicts with the business and enterprise sector, the location points of land conflicts with the community during 2010 were dominated by the plantation sector. During 2010, as many as 23 conflicts occurred in the plantation sector, 17 conflicts in the forestry sector, and four remaining conflicts in the mining sector. Although instances of conflict in the forestry sector were less than in the plantation sector, the extent of conflict areas in the forestry sector was recorded as three times larger than the extent of conflicts that occurred in the plantation sector.
The conflicts currently occurring in Riau province have caused serious loss of life and limb and property to local inhabitants who are protesting against the loss of their lands and resources. As Scale Up’s study discovered, corruption and power imbalances have allowed for horrific crimes to go unpunished and to be hushed up.
In 2009, severe clashes occurred resulting from a land dispute between company PT. Sumatra Sylva Lestari (a supplier of APRIL) and a village community of RAPP (Huta) Tangun, Bangun Purba district Rokan Hulu on May 28 2009. This conflict led to the deaths of three people while another sixteen people were severely injured. This conflict has been handled by the National Commission on Human Rights, which has concluded that serious human rights abuses have been committed. Despite this, to date, the perpetrators of the violence have not been dealt with by the police or the judiciary even though there have been numerous complaints from the families of the victims. The crimes remain unchallenged.
The Government of Indonesia needs to address the root causes of the serious conflicts plaguing Indonesia’s forest-dependent people. These include:
1. The fact that conflicts are often triggered or exacerbated by the government (central and local) granting permission to companies to access and use land without the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of local communities. Spatial planning policies that do not accommodate the livelihoods of these local communities or respect their basic human rights are the main causes of conflict.
2. There is ambiguity in the allocation of tenure rights between local communities (with customary systems of tenure) and areas that are classified either as state forests (production, protection and conservation forests) or non-forest lands that are entrusted to the private sector and intended for the development of plantations. This includes lack of due process for land acquisition when access will be restricted, limiting the sources of livelihood of surrounding communities.
3. The flaws in law enforcement which allow government officials to engage in illegal land leasing or certification, and to distribute licenses to companies without community consultation.
4. The lack of existing policy, institutional and grievance redress mechanisms, resulting in local authorities failing to anticipate and efficiently resolve latent or ongoing conflicts.
To resolve ongoing land-related conflicts, immediate steps must be undertaken to achieve tenure reform, with an emphasis on the following dimensions:
1. Restitution of areas through a robust legal process to local communities and indigenous peoples.
2. The recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities through the establishment of regions specially managed by them.
3. The establishment of forest areas through the integration of indigenous territories in land use maps and maps produced by the National Land Agency
4. The full and immediate resolution of land disputes, backed by strong and institutionalised policies and grievance redress mechanisms, applicable and accessible respectively to local communities and indigenous peoples.For the original Indonesian sources of this article, please visit (NOTE: The first link contains graphic images - viewer discretion is strongly advised): www.scaleup.or.id/publikasi-akhirthn/Laporan%20Tahunan%20Konflik%20Konflik%20Sumber%20Daya%20Alam%202009_ind.pdfwww.scaleup.or.id/publikasi-akhirthn/Catatan%20Akhir%20Tahun%202008_Scale%20Up.pdf For further information on Scale Up’s work on conflict and land tenure, please visit: www.scaleup.or.id/publikasi-kolom/Merubah%20Konflik%20menjadi%20kemitraan%20sejajar_artikel_IND.pdf
www.scaleup.or.id/publikasi-akhirthn/Laporan%20Tahunan%20Scale%20Up_2010_Final.pdf About the author: Ahmad Zazali is Executive Director of Sustainable Social Development Partnership (Scale Up), an Indonesian NGO that promotes equitable and accountable development through partnerships with civil society, the government and the private sector. In particular, they research social conflict resulting from industrial oil palm plantations, and promote participatory research at the grassroots level, as well as training and capacity-building of local communities. For further information, please visit: www.scaleup.or.id (in Bahasa Indonesia only)