MIFEE project violates human rights: Joint press release

Joint Press Release,

14 August 2011

Walhi, Pusaka, Sajogyo Institute, Sorpatom, Papuan NGOs Working Group, Sawit Watch, Aman, Huma,  JKPP, KPA, Kontras, Green Peace Indonesia, DtE

MIFEE Project Violates Human Rights

[Translated by TAPOL]

One year after the MIFEE (Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate) Project was launched by the central government, the situation of the people in Merauke  has become a matter of grave concern.  The indigenous Malind  people and the inhabitants in Merauke in general have been threatened and marginalised as a result of the conversion of their land and their ancestral forests by the MIFEE Project.

Research undertaken by Pusaka, called  ‘MIFEE does not reflect the aspirations of the Malind people’ drew the conclusion that the MIFEE Project was launched as the illegitimate offspring of the global food crisis for Food, Feed, Fuel and Climate Change (3F and 2C).  MIFEE is called the ‘illegitimate offspring’ because it is not a solution that serves the interests of the majority of the people but is the result of a conspiracy between capitalists and the government in search of economic rent side by side with cramped living conditions for the majority of the people. In the words of Emillianus Ola Kleden, a researcher for Pusaka Foundation, the MIFEE programme will have a number of negative impacts on the social and cultural fabric, the demographics, the social and economic conditions and the environment of the people. These negative impacts  will also worsen the living conditions of many groups living in the areas affected by the project.

Laksmi A Savitri, a researcher for the Sajogyo Institute, came across facts showing that MIFEE is a development model which makes no provision for improving the living standards  of the indigenous people in Merauke and is only focussed on the accumulation of corporate profits. There are three reasons for this, according to Laksmi:  firstly, it fails to respect the concept of land and identity  which is inseparable from the identity and dignity of the Malind people; secondly, it fails to understand the close links between the Malind people’s system of living and the natural resources and the forests, and assumes that the loss of forestry resources will be replaced by opportunities to work as day labourers for the companies; and thirdly, it pays no attention to the process of meaningful social transformation for the Malind people towards a better life in ways and forms that are defined by the Malind people themselves.

According to Billy Metemko, chairman of Sorpatom Merauke, the Merauke Project  has already caused significant damage  to  the social structure of the customary groups who have lost land where they are able to look for food and fulfil their social  needs, like what has happened in Zanegi Kampung in the operational area of PT Medco or Domande Kampung in the operational area of PT Rajawali and Nakias Kampung in the operational area of PT Dongin Prabhawa.  The destruction of these forests has resulted in the destruction of traditional symbols, the source of their livelihood, while in the longer term, it will lead to the wholesale destruction and extermination of traditional communities in Merauke.

Since 2010, Sawit Watch and the Justice and Peace Commission of the Diocese of Merauke (SKP-Merauke) have held a number of meetings in kampungs along the border region between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea in South Papua and have discovered that land has been allocated for palm oil plantations on a massive scale. In the district of Merauke, at least 380,887 hectares have been allocated to ten companies, and 320,000 hectares in the district of Boven Digoel where licences have been issued to eight palm oil plantation companies. Opening up the land to palm oil plantations  on such a large scale has resulted in forest areas in the south of Papua having been turned into mono-cultural  plantations  leading to ecological destruction and the permanent and irreversible loss of its vitally important diversity. The presence of traditional communities  and indigenous Papuan people whose lives still depend on the forests will eventually be uprooted and marginalised as a consequence of development schemes that fail to take account of local wisdom and culture.

Bearing these conditions in mind, civil society in Indonesia has warned the Indonesian government and parliament, the DPR RI, that this project is more harmful than beneficial. Nevertheless the government  seems to have refused to listen to reports about the destruction of the environment, the food culture of the traditional communities and their life spaces and the destruction of Merauke’s forests. Sorpatom (Solidarity of Papuan People Rejecting MIFEE) has on numerous occasions organised activities to reject the  presence of MIFEE. Komali (the Community of Traditional Communities) wrote to the Indonesian president last year expressing the same views about MIFEE.

A field visit to Merauke by the environmental NGO WALHI in June 2011 discovered that during the course of the past year, at least one hundred thousand hectares of natural forest in Merauke have been cleared, including sago hamlets which protected food security  at all times, regardless of the season, and are very adaptable to changes in the climate. The marshlands are threatened  by drought, as a result of which  fish, birds  and deer  that have provided the local people with their source of protein will find it increasingly difficult to enjoy the necessary living space. Eventually, the Economic, Social and Cultural (ECOSOC)  rights will become ever more inaccessible to protection and provision by the state. Berry N. Forqan, the national executive director of WALHI, has stated that it is reasonable to say that the Indonesian government should be regarded as having caused the violation of basic human rights with the MIFEE Project.

Sinal Blegur, a member of the Working Group of NGOs in Papua, said that the violation of these ECOSOC rights will ultimately lead to the violation of  civil and political rights because MIFEE could potentially pave the way for the security forces  to enter the region on a massive scale to protect the operations of the companies.

In view of the above, dozens of local, national and international NGOs  have in the past month jointly produced a report to be submitted  to the Special Rapporteur of the UN on the Right to Food, drawing attention to threats to the right to food  of the traditional communities in Merauke. According to Abet Nego Tarigan, executive director of Sawit Watch, 22 NGOs  have so far signed  this document, representing the traditional communities in Merauke who are the victims or potential victims of the MIFEE Project The report has also been sent to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights  of the Human Rights Treaties Division.

This means that all civil society organisations which are concerned with the rights and living space for indigenous Papuan people should call on the government to immediately halt all MIFEE activities and Food Estates in general  in Indonesia that are  damaging the environment and forcing the  removal of traditional communities from their traditional land  and areas which they manage. The national, provincial and district governments must stop granting location licences  to companies and hold an inclusive dialogue, in which the Malind people are central, to discuss the allocation of land, the provision of space and development capital for agriculture, in conformity with social transformation that can bring the Malind people self-reliance and dignity.

All this is intended to ensure that similar operations that have resulted in the massive destruction of the environment which have occurred in Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan and Sulawesi  should not be repeated in Papua.

Contacts:

Islah, Manager   of the Water and Food Campaign, WALHI;

Frangky Samperante, Director of Psaka;

A Karlo Nainggolan, staff member of Advocacy, Policy and Legal Defence, Sawit Watch;

Laksmi Savitri, Sajogyo Institute;

Sinal Blegur, member of the Working Group of NGOs in Papua.

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