|Picture from here|
Over the past month or so two land disputes on the
have gained a significant amount
of media attention. The first case
gained coverage worldwide as farmers in Lampung province alleged that at least
32 farmers have been murdered by palm oil companies since 2008. The second case so far has been limited to
the regional papers and is still unfolding.
In Jambi province villagers have repeatedly attacked the base camp of a
palm oil plantation, claiming that they have been wrongfully evicted from their
land by the company. In the most recent
attack the villagers destroyed heavy equipment, set fire to buildings, and
severely injured (one subsequently died) personnel from the company. In my mind these two incidents illustrate two
separate problems related to land tenure on island of Sumatra Sumatra. I'll begin with the first case.
Case #1: Mass Killings in Mesuji
|Graphic from Jakarta Post|
On December 14, 2011 several residents of the Mesuji region of Lampung (the Southern part of Sumatra) journeyed to
seeking a meeting with members of the
House of Representatives. They were
accompanied by a retired army general, who served as a kind of spokesperson for
the group. The group claimed that since
2008 dozens of farmers have been killed (hundreds injured) by private security
forces working for two palm oil companies: PT Sumber Wangi Alam and PT Silva
Inhutani. Clashes between the companies
and the villagers stemmed from conflict over land; the villagers claimed
rightful ownership while the companies insisted they had been granted use
rights by the government. The group
showed video of gruesome killings, including beheadings and mutilation of
bodies, allegedly perpetrated by the security forces. The accusations sparked outrage within the
government and across the country, and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono promised
to launch a full-scale investigation into the issue. Jakarta
|Poster from here|
Since the story initially broke a significant amount of confusion has emerged surrounding the land conflict. One of the most embarrassing things that has come out concerns the origin of the videos used. Close examination reveals that they were most likely made in the Pattani region of southern
, where separatists have
been locked in a bitter struggle with government forces. No one disputes that killings actually took
place, though. The main point of
contention lies in identifying the aggressors; as mentioned in the previous
paragraph the villagers claim they are the victims of brutality perpetuated by
private security forces, whereas the companies claim that the villagers have
ambushed their work camps, killing several personnel. The team dispatched by the House of
Representatives to investigate concluded that at least 9 people were killed in
April (1). But there is still a lot of back and forth about who is to blame. Thailand
This whole conflict boils down to the control of land, which is a pretty big issue in
. Land "ownership" is complex problem
and can be understood in a number of ways, but to really get to the heart of it
we need to understand a little bit about land in Indonesia . Under the Dutch, who controlled most of the
territory that would become Indonesia ,
a western system of ownership (domein) was introduced. In many places this system of private and
state ownership was in conflict with local systems of management, which as a
general rule are more communal in nature.
Moreover, across the 17,500 islands of the archipelago there is
tremendous variability in local systems of land management, but the colonial
authorities replaced these with a one-size-fits all simplified system. When Indonesia became independent in
1949 the new leaders inherited the Dutch system. During the early years of the Republic some
minor reforms were enacted, but the most significant move to codify land use
regulations was contained in the Basic Agrarian Law (#5/1960) which outlined
the main forms of tenure recognized across the country: Indonesia
- Hak Milik (right of ownership): this is what most people think of when they think of "land ownership"; there is no time limit and land can be transferred and mortgaged
- Hak Pakai (right to use): applies to usufruct rights but doesn't imply ownership of the land.
- Hak Guna Usaha (right to exploit): this arrangement was established mainly so that extraction companies (mining, plantations, etc) could use government land for a certain period of time.
- Hak Guna Bangunan (right to build): means you can construct structures on the land, but not own the land.
Though there were token efforts to incorporate traditional (adat) systems into the overall legal framework stalled when Suharto came to power in 1967. In fact, with the passage of the Basic Forestry Law (#5/1967) the national government, in the form of the Ministry of Forestry, granted itself ownership and the right to manage all land classified as "forests", which amounted to about 75% of the country. In "forest" areas this law replaced the Agrarian law and gave a huge amount of power to the central government while at the same time marginalizing virtually every local user group and system in the country. In other words, even if people had been working land for generations, the central government could (and very frequently did) take the land and award it to some mining, plantation, or logging company. Any opposition was harshly put down by the army and national police.
When Suharto fell in 1998 so did his authoritarian system of control. Power swung back to district (kabupaten) governments, and people were emboldened to reassert traditional claims over land and other natural resources. However, adat systems, though recognized at some levels, have yet to be integrated into the national system of land titling and tenuring. Instead what has happened is that the formal and adat systems exist in parallel, with adat rules being subservient to formal rules. Moreover, in order to be recognized, an adat system has to be recognized by the government, and most haven't reached this level. This has created a significant amount of conflict, including the Mesuji case.
Complicating this is the fact that the system of land titling in
is fairly byzantine. It is difficult and
expensive (2) to get land ownership registered with the government, and so most
people don't do it. Over the past 40
years the national land authority (BPN, Badan Pertanahan Nasional) has
registered about a third of the country's privately-owned land, but there are
still approximately 60 million unregistered. At the current rate of about 1 million
registrations per year, it will take another 60 years to finish the job. Indonesia
The upshot of all this confusion is that there's really no good way to settle land disputes. District governments grant usage rights to companies without regard to local claims in an effort to increase revenues. Villagers are underserved by the system and are frequently in the dark about the legalities of land as well as district development plans. No one really trusts the courts since they are open to outside manipulation.
Case #2 Villagers vs. Oil Palm Developers in Jambi
|Palm oil picture from here|
The second example comes from Tebo district in Jambi province, where as many as 300 villagers last week rampaged though an oil palm camp belonging to PT Lesari Asri Jaya (3). Newspaper reports describe the attackers as "encroachers" (perambah), which to me indicates a bias towards the company. Other villagers prevented the police from reaching the seen of the attack. The dispute is over claims to an area totaling about 60,000 hectares. The difference between this case and the Mesuji case, though, is that the violence has been perpetrated by "pendatang", or people that have recently settled in the area. According to Tebo district authorities the villagers come from other districts and acquire land through illegal transactions with locals. This is a common occurrence on Sumatra; the group encroaching into
district, which I described in a previous post, were also from other districts
and provinces. Kerinci Seblat
This second case illustrates a dynamic that seems to have received less attention. In Central and
South Sumatra, at least, there is a phenomenon whereby
local people sell land to outsiders.
This happens in protected forests and national parks. What motivates local people to do this is unclear;
they may view the land as rightfully theirs or they may be motivated by shear
opportunism. The reasons aren't really
important for this discussion; what is important is that there are several
enabling factors that allow this to happen.
The first is that in many places there is little enforcement or
patrolling, so it's relatively easy to squat on land and be reasonably certain
that nothing is going to happen to you.
another enabling factor is the lack of recorded titles to land; land is
frequently bought and sold without survey and paperwork here. A third enabling factor is the existence of a
ready market of people that are willing to move to a new place and buy the land
on the word of the villagers alone. This
market exists, according to many sources, because there are no other
opportunities for the people. What makes
more sense to me, however, is that this movement into "frontier
areas" is the result of all of the previously described land problems
Cases like these are frequent in
. USAID estimates there are at least 1500 major
land conflicts that have yet to be settled. The cases seem to be increasing since the fall
of Suharto, which has in many cases created a power vacuum in which various
local interests struggle to gain control over natural resources and land. Though there are many capacity and advocacy
NGOs working in the field to improve the situation, the recent violence shows
that these issues are far from being resolved. Indonesia
(1) According to one account, tensions between PT Sumber Wangi Alam and the villagers came to a head when a grandson of a village leader was beheaded by security personnel for attempting to confiscate the company's harvest. Several hours after the murder, approximately 200 villagers descended on the plantation, killing 5 SWA workers.
(2) According to USAID, the cost of registering land averages out to about 11% of the total value of the property. This is three times greater than the average cost across
(3) "PT" indicates a corporation.
i was surprised because Sumatra has such a fertile land particularly for palm oil, but mass killing happened in Masuji. it was because of land conflict. I think that the government and the citizens should talk and understand each other without violence.ReplyDelete
I am studying geography and Indonesia in this week.ReplyDelete
I have never known the conflict between oil pantation and villagers on Sumatra before I read this entry.
Oil plantations cannot avoid to involve people in the villege, so it is very complicated.
I did not know that many conflicts happened in Indonesia. Many villagers and people who worked at palm oil companies killed each other and many people died for fighting natural resources. I think that fighting each other is not good because the conflict is going to continue interminably. As a result, many people are injured and killed, so I think that other countries such as America, Japan, and China should intervene in a conflict and villagers and workers solve the problem peacefully not using violence.ReplyDelete
After reading this story, I just have to wonder why news like this doesn't reach to a more international audience. I mean, with people dying and governmental disputes, you would think that someone might step and help settle it.ReplyDelete
It is very sad to read that so many farmers have been killed in so little time. Unfortunately it's not the only problem. The palm oil companies don't just kill human beings, which is one of the worst things you can do. They also kill what many people claim to be "The lungs of the earth" - Rainforests. A big problem with the deforestation is that some animal species are being seriously endangered.ReplyDelete
Why can the Indonesian government set firm law so there won't be any confusion on land ownership? There seemed to be gray area within the land laws in Indonesia.ReplyDelete
The government needs to fix their land ownership laws. Make it so that it's illegal and punishable to use already owned land. The farmers should receive titles as proof and clearly mark the area of owned land. The farmers are killing because they feel that the oil companies are using their land, but they have no title of ownership. Why would you get mad if the land wasn't yours to begin with?ReplyDelete
In terms of Case #1 do you think that the officials from the house of representatives will ever come to a conclusion on who was truly at fault? Also who do you side with? I can tell there is a lot of grey area on both sides but i was curious on your opinion.ReplyDelete
I was really surprised that there was this many conflicts happening in Indonesia. And before reading this i did not know that villagers have been murderd by palm oil comapnies in 2008. But overall i think more people should learn about what is happening so something can be done to stop the conflict over natural resources.ReplyDelete
Before reading this I had no idea that there was this many conflicts happening in Indonesia. It surprised me that 32 farmers were killed by palm oil companies in 2008. Before reading this article I was not even aware that there was even a conflict between palm oil companies and villagers from Sumatra. I believe that more people should learn about and be more aware of conflicts happening in Indonesia and other parts of as well. So we can help stop future killing over natural resources from happening.ReplyDelete
I think it's very sad that the laws are so indefinite and poorly enforced, especially because of all the lives it has taken. I am also a fan of the underdog, so maybe I'm being a little biased, but I doubt that a company would hire a private security agency for no reason. Whether the residents of the Mesuji region attacked first, or some kind of impending retaliation was about to happen, all of this could have been brought to government attention. I also feel for the people that are just trying to survive with what little education, resources, and support they have.ReplyDelete
Indonesia seriously needs to better regulation of land ownership. While there is some sort of national system for registering land, it does not seem to be very efficient. Sixty years is much too long for the country to complete the process. By that time, the conflict will escalate into something that the government may not be able to control. In regards to Case #2, I am still confused as to who owned the land that was being used by the oil palm plantation company. In this situation, who was in the wrong? Also, the conflicts in both Case #1 and #2 seem to be further complicated by the fact that the "villagers are underserved by the system and are frequently in the dark about the legalities of land as well as district development plans." Maybe if people were more informed, they could make better decisions about when it is actually acceptable to be upset about "their land" being taken. If they don't even understand the legalities of the land, then their understanding of ownership and rights will obviously not correspond with the government's definition of such concepts.ReplyDelete
I enjoyed reading this blog because I had no idea that there were so many conflicts over land ownership in Indonesia. It was very sad to read that villagers and farmers have been killed due to these palm oil companies over the last four years. Prayers to the villagers on Samatra.ReplyDelete
The government needs to be held liable for allowing such disputes over land to its people. The farmers and people need to unite and protest the government until they hear there plea for land justice.ReplyDelete
This situation sounds like anarchy. There's too much confusion over who owns the land. I agree with most of the above comments. If these skirmishes are to end, the government needs to organize its land ownership rights and start enforcing them. Citizens need to respect lawfully acquired land rights which, on the other hand, I can't blame them for not respecting given the history and the corruption present is in the courts.ReplyDelete
its a sad situation, and yet not surprising. i would assume there isnʻt much solidarity between differnet villages, which might or might not help. unity against foreign companies could possibly make it easier to resist, although that doesnʻt address, what seems like, the governments complete disregard for the their people. and if both sides already share a willingness to kill, then a lot needs to happen before any agreements are to be made. thats, again, assuming that the palm oil companies are willing to compromise and appreciating the idea that locals shouldnʻt have to.ReplyDelete
It's sad to hear that people are dying because of these ever expanding plantations. Palm oil plantations are great example of massive deforestation. The demand for palm oil is very high and the plantations provide a steady source of income for many people. But these plantations destroy large areas of biodiversity and replaced them with one species (the oil palm). Borneo was once covered by a massive forest that extended across the island. Since the palm oil plantations started this massive forest has been cleared away and replaced with the oil palm. It’s estimated that the rest of forest will be completely gone in less than a decade. I Hope that eventually there will be some resolution on the use of these lands before is too late for Indonesia’s forests.ReplyDelete