Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Medan | Archipelago | Sat, January 10 2015, 10:28 AM
The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) has urged the North Sumatra provincial administration and police to get involved and uphold the rights of members of the Padang Halaban farming community in a land dispute with PT Sinar Mas Agro-Resource and Technology (SMART) in North Labuhan Batu regency, North Sumatra.
The commission on Friday met Governor Gatot Pujo Nugroho, members of the Provincial Legislative Council (DPRD) and the police at their respective offices in an effort to resolve the dispute.
Komnas HAM commissioner Dianto Bachriadi said his commission appreciated that all the parties had expressed their willingness to support a peaceful resolution of the dispute.
“The governor, DPRD and police have agreed to settle the dispute peacefully. We appreciate their support,” Dianto told The Jakarta Post in Medan on Friday.
Dianto said Komnas HAM had investigated and visited the disputed area in November last year and issued several recommendations, including asking North Labuhan Batu Regent Kharuddinsyah Sitorus to protect and uphold the rights of the farming community.
Dianto added that Komnas HAM had asked PT SMART to be transparent and accountable in every activity carried out by the company in resolving the dispute and to develop its plasma farm spanning at least 20 percent of its concession area by involving residents in Padang Halaban and Panigoran villages.
Komnas HAM also specifically urged the police not to get involved in intimidation of residents in either village.
The land dispute between the residents and PT SMART has been ongoing since 1969 when residents claimed the 3,000 hectares of land they had cultivated since 1945 were taken over by the company.
With the opening of the Reform era in 1998, residents promoted their claims to the seized land by forming a farming community and sending several letters to the government.
There was no response from the government until 2009, so the farmers took over 83 hectares. However, the residents were then subject to abductions and shootings. Now, the land dispute has become a legal case and residents have filed an appeal against a case won by PT SMART in 2013.
PT SMART is a subsidiary of Sinar Mas Group, one of the biggest oil palm plantation companies in Indonesia.
Governor Gatot said his administration was committed to resolving the dispute peacefully and would mediate at a meeting on Jan. 13.
The police said they would support efforts to resolve the dispute amicably in a win-win solution.
“If there was a peaceful way, it would be better,” said North Sumatra Police Supervisory Insp. Syafril N. in a meeting with Komnas HAM at the North Sumatra Police headquarters on Friday afternoon.
When asked about a peaceful resolution, PT SMART spokesman Sanal Sihombing declined to comment. “That’s for my superiors to say, I don’t have the authority to answer,” Sanal told the Post on Friday.
The Padang Halaban land dispute is among many similar disputes that Komnas HAM has been working on since last year.
In 2014, the commission held a national inquiry forum, a seven-month program to gather information from indigenous communities, government institutions and companies to map out possible solutions for the country’s rampant customary-land disputes.
Launched in April, the national inquiry forum included six public hearings in Central Sulawesi, North Sumatra, Banten, West Kalimantan, Papua and Maluku, which included parties involved in prominent land disputes in those regions.
Agrarian reform activists have said the lack of formal recognition by the state of indigenous communities and their customary lands is the main reason behind the increasing number of customary-land disputes in the recent years.
Data from the Indigenous People’s Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) shows that 143 customary-land disputes occurred throughout the country last year.
In 2012, AMAN filed a judicial review with the Constitutional Court to challenge several articles in the 1999 Forestry Law that prevent indigenous people from collectively using natural resources in their customary territories, saying they contravened the Constitution.
Although the court approved the judicial review in 2012, formal recognition of indigenous communities and their customary rights cannot be immediately implemented due to the absence of formal procedures and lack of coordination among state institutions.