Indonesia: Respecting Human Rights Key to Ending Deforestation in Indonesia

Dogwood Alliance is pleased to once again take part in Blog Action Day. This year’s theme is Human Rights, and we decided to step away from forests in the Southern US for our post and spend some time discussing how respecting human rights is the key to ending deforestation in Indonesia.

The tropical forests of Indonesia are a global treasure and are one of the top five homes for wildlife species around the globe, including some of the last critical habitat for orangutans. Sadly, over the last 40 years Indonesia has lost over 80% of its natural forests and continues to lose over 1 million hectares every year. Today, the country has the third highest number of endangered species at 772, including 40 species of primates.

With that in mind, you may be asking yourself what this has to do with human rights. In addition to the countless plant and animal species that call these forests home, there are 100 million indigenous people in the country, many of whom rely on forests for their food and livelihood. Sadly, the pulp and paper along with the palm oil industry have a long history of destruction, which has impacted these people and led the country to be one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases on the planet.

Even with government pledges to limit the expansion of eucalyptus and oil palm plantations, the industry marches on with plans to double the current plantation acreage over the next 10 years. This plantation expansion will replace more native forests and small farms, increasing not only deforestation but also human right conflicts.

Government allocation of new land for plantation conversion does not take into account indigenous use and ownership. As a result, the rights of local communities and small farmers to own, manage and derive livelihoods from these areas are ignored and violated. Communities are rarely able to stop or limit these expansions.

Indonesia’s National Lands Agency has registered over 3,000 conflicts between oil palm companies and local communities. They have not done the same for paper plantations, but estimates range as high as 30,000 villages facing the impacts.

Communities resisting the takeover of their forests and farms for pulpwood or oil palm plantations are often treated as criminals, including village leaders being imprisoned for long stretches without a trial, repression of community protest as well as the burning and bulldozing of villages and community farms.

The government typically fails to even acknowledge these abuses, and without recognizing human rights violations in Indonesia, plantation expansion will continue unabated, leading to further human rights abuses and widespread impoverishment of thousands. At the very least, companies and their colluders in government need to adopt mixed agroforestry that allows local people access to their farmland and forests.

Respecting human rights is not optional. It is an obligation that has long been overlooked by corporations and government officials in Indonesia. If the government won’t act, it is imperative that global consumers at the corporate and individual level stop association with companies that violate human rights.

A full list of recommendations for government can be reviewed in the publication titled “Breaking the Link Between Commodities and Climate Change” released by a wide range of NGOs, including our friends at RAN, NRDC, and Climate Advisers in June 2013.