Push to Protect Local Livelihoods, Rights
The government is increasingly being urged to consider people’s rights when formulating regulations on natural resource management and plantations, with both sectors become increasingly synonymous with cases of land grabs, environmental damage and violent clashes. “The government must be able to formulate regulations of exactly how much land can be converted into oil palm plantations because they can cause 20 years of damage, not just to the environment but also to the livelihood of the people living there,” Mohamad Choirul Anam, deputy executive director of the Human Rights Working Group, said on Tuesday.
He said the government should be held accountable for the many cases of conflicts linked to land disputes, arguing had failed to ensure people were fairly compensated for their land or for anticipating overlapping claims before issuing permits for plantations and mining concessions. The Consortium for Agrarian Reform (KPA) has recorded that at least 25 farmers were shot and three killed last year across Indonesia as a result of land disputes and agrarian conflicts.
Although 2011 was a more deadly year for agrarian conflicts, with 22 deaths linked to land disputes, the total number of conflicts rose in 2012, from 163 to 198, the KPA said. The group highlighted cases over the last two years in South Sumatra and Lampung, where bloody conflicts persist between farmers and large oil palm plantations. Tensions first erupted in 2011, but a lack of government commitment to addressing the problem’s root causes prompted the conflict to resurface again last year, Anam said. In July, police, who many believe were siding with plantation owners, opened fire on a group of protesting farmers in Ogan Ilir district, South Sumatra.
The victims of the shooting had accused private plantation companies of encroaching on their lands. A child was fatally shot by police during the protest. The KPA also claimed that 156 farmers were arbitrarily arrested for protesting against land encroachment by big businesses, while none of the land dispute cases were ever investigated. Agrarian conflicts have also resulted in 55 farmers sustaining injuries from heavy-handed policing and alleged torture, the KPA says. Anam said Indonesia could be a driving force for global change in how extractive and plantation industries did business with developing countries. “Indonesia must be at the forefront of improvements to international business conduct.
Although several countries have rejected the issue of balancing business with human rights as part of market liberalization, Indonesia must propose a declaration on this,” he said. The Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam) said political parties had also become complacent in cases of land grabs, especially when party officials were involved in awarding concessions. “There are at least seven parties involved,” said Hendrik Sinaga, the Jatam coordinator. “The practice is usually done in the run-up to regional elections. Natural resources have become a huge source of funding for political [parties] across the country.”
Strike over fuel price hike hits
Bangladesh DHAKA — Bangladesh police fired tear gas and water cannon at protestors Wednesday as a nationwide strike over a hike in fuel prices brought large parts of the country to a halt.
A coalition of leftwing parties, including the Communist Party of Bangladesh, called the strike to protest a recent increase in diesel, kerosene and gasoline prices, saying it was due to pressure from the International Monetary Fund. Most schools, shops and private businesses were closed in the capital, the normally congested Dhaka streets were largely empty and motorways were deserted, affecting deliveries from the ports. Police fired tear gas at scores of activists near the Communist party headquarters in Dhaka after they tried to barricade a key road and smash vehicles, local police chief Golam Sarwar told AFP.
“They became violent and also burnt tyres on the road,” he said. Sarwar said that no one had been reported injured. The online edition of the Daily Star, however, said several people were hurt and that police had used pepper spray to disperse the activists. Police also sprayed coloured water from a cannon on protesters at a road crossing, according to an AFP correspondent who was at the scene. The strike was the eighth to hit the impoverished and politically volatile country in the last six weeks. The country’s main opposition parties also held a strike on January 4 to protest the latest fuel price hike.
They also enforced series of strikes last month demanding polls under a neutral technocrat-led caretaker administration. Bangladesh on January 3 raised fuel prices by up to 11 percent, saying that the spike was needed to cut the country’s growing energy subsidy bill. The government said the hike would save more than $300 million. Leftwing parties said the increase was one of the strings attached by the IMF to secure a tranche of the $1 billion soft loan that it agreed to provide Bangladesh in April last year.