Sunday, March 9, 2008 12:39 AM Jakarta Post
Human rights body finds rights abuse in Riau land dispute
Rizal Harahap , The Jakarta Post , Pekanbaru Sat, 03/08/2008 12:11 PM The Archipelago
The National Commission of Human Rights has found human rights abuses in the prolonged land dispute between the Sakai tribe and forestry company PT Arara Abadi in Riau, Sumatra.
Chairman of the commission's fact-finding team, Jhony Simanjuntak, said the Sakai people had lost their right to live peacefully and safely because of the company's continual intimidation.
He said the company deployed security personnel and trained dogs to drive away farmers working on the disputed land and to intimidate children traveling to and from school.
The team, which visited the land early this week, found dual ownership of certain enclaves had triggered the dispute. The Sakai people have lived in the 10 villages and have farmed the surrounding areas in Bengkalis and Siak since 1830.
They were granted official ownership of the land in 1940 by the Sultan of Siak. PT Arara Abadi obtained the forest concession in 1996.
"When the company came in, it did not know the Sakai people were living and farming in the enclaves, which has caused a dispute," said Jhony at a press conference at the Governor's Office here Thursday.
According to the fact-finding team, the Sakai tribe should be recognized as the land's rightful owners under the 1999 Forestry Law. However, the tribe has not sought legal protection because of the complicated bureaucratic process involved. The law guarantees the Sakai people's right to the land but approval from the government is also required.
"Government approval has proven difficult to obtain because the criteria it sets is unrealistic," said Jhony.
"The conflict has become complicated because many farmers have claimed plots of land which were also included in the forest concession. Land claims have led to the arrest of many farmers and, in this case, Arara has no authority to make arrests. Instead, it should maintain its assets, including the land in the forest concession," he said.
The rights body carried out the preliminary inquiry after residents of 10 villages in the two regencies submitted a complaint over Arara's violence and intimidation. Farmers and security personnel have been involved in clashes, claiming lives from both sides.
"My team recommends the government review the forest concession given to Arara by resetting its borders to help settle the dispute immediately. If the borderlines are not reset, the conflict will continue and spread to other areas," Jhony warned.
He also criticized the provincial government, which he said had turned a blind eye to the prolonged conflict.
Arara spokesman Nurul Huda denied security personnel were trying to intimidate local people, saying the company was merely maintaining its concession area in accordance with the Forestry Law.
Forestry Minister Malam Sambat Kaban said Arara should return the land which the people occupied before 1996, "as long as they have their own legacy over the land."
Arara also denied it had burned down its forest to make way for a palm oil plantation.
Various non-government organizations accused the company of land clearing after afire in its forest concession burned thousands of hectares. Arara says it has no palm oil plants in the province.