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New Environmental Justice Program in Indonesia

Massive transformations of forests and small farms for the use of agri-businesses, extractive industries, and infrastructure projects have been occurring in Indonesia since its independence. In Central Kalimantan, the third-largest province of the Borneo-part of Indonesia, 78% of the land has been taken over by oil-palm plantations and extractive industries. The province has also been the site of various government schemes, such as large-scale agricultural projects and conservation efforts.

These “land use conversions” have had severe ecological and social impacts. Pollution, water scarcity, denied access to common spaces, and other negative impacts have threatened the ability of those dependent on natural resources to pursue their livelihoods.

In the past 20 years, a legal and policy framework has emerged to protect the livelihoods of forest-dependent people and smallholder farmers. However,  policies and regulations remain largely unimplemented. As a result, the negative impacts of large-scale land use conversions have devolved into unresolved conflicts.

Namati, in partnership with WALHI-Central Kalimantan (WALHI-CK), has initiated a paralegal program to educate members of affected communities in laws and regulations that can prevent or remedy the environmental and social conflicts. Namati is providing the paralegals with technical support, guidance, and training.

The program builds on the wide-reaching presence of WALHI-CK’s community coordinators in the province and its past work collaborating with communities to document cases of conflicts. Eighteen paralegals are now conducting community-level trainings and meetings on compromised living conditions and livelihoods as a result of land use conversions, and how the existing regulatory framework responds to them. Through these trainings, the paralegals gain a better understanding of impacts the communities face, identify cases in which the impacts are a result of violation/non-implementation of certain laws, document the impacts, and assess the feasibility of generating evidence of non-compliance and the likelihood of a resolution.

The paralegals keep records of three different types of cases: identified cases (cases that are reported through communities, other NGOs, and media); documented cases (cases for which paralegals have detailed information on impacts and the communities affected); and priority cases (cases for which paralegals actively pursue a remedy in collaboration with the affected communities).  

The paralegals have been working in close association with affected communities in seven districts (regencies) of Central Kalimantan: Katingan, East Barito, North Barito, East Kotawaringin, Seruyan, West Kotawaringin, and Kapuas. They are pursuing cases of environmental non-compliance by oil palm and coal mining projects that have led to impacts such as loss of productive land, reduced agricultural income, denied access to and contaminated water sources, and blocked access to community forests. These impacts concern the indigenous Dayaks, the Javanese, and other ethnic populations of the province. While pursuing resolution of cases, the paralegals discuss and make joint decisions with the communities on possible institutions to approach, remedies to seek, and steps to take.

Along with information on the impacts and the violation, paralegals rigorously document every step of the case resolution process including information on institutions approached, laws invoked, and strategies tried. Namati and WALHI-CK will use this information to better their methodologies and share lessons learned with the wider legal empowerment community.

November 28, 2017 | Namati

Region: Indonesia