Whilst in Jakarta in April, David Cameron praised Indonesia as a paradigm of Islamic democracy for countries throughout the Muslim world. On a two-day visit to the nation, Cameron claimed that democracy would be the guarantor of security and religious freedom across the country. At the time I rejected Cameron’s over-simplistic rubber-stamping of the government of Indonesia as a defender of human rights and justice for its people. I wrote about the fairly regular slaughter of the menfolk of Ahmadiyyan families.
It seemed to me that the prime minister must have known about this, but being an unquestioning apologist for big business, was more interested in signing contracts than standing up for the defenceless in Indonesia. It is likely that defending the business interests of global companies is the real prism that we should look through in order to understand Cameron’s rosy appraisal of Indonesia’s “inspiring” democracy. Indonesia’s budget for arms spending over the next 18 months is just over £1 billion.
Our millionaire prime minister seems to have forgotten about East Timor and West Papua. Both regions are struggling to free themselves from what they see as locally focussed tyranny, persecution, toture and killings. The leader of the separatist party in West Papua was killed in June after police targeted him. It is commonplace for the local people to be the subject of persecution and torture at the hands of Indonesian state security.
The suppression is not just military either. Political decisions that are taken in Jakarta are rarely to the advantage of the native Papuans, as was reported recently by Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). An Indonesian oil palm plantation in which Norway has a financial stake paid Papuan tribal landowners as little as US$0.65 per hectare for their forestland:
In the new report Clear-Cut Exploitation, EIA and its Indonesian partner Telapak expose woefully low payments by PT Henrison Inti Persada (PT HIP) to marginalised Moi tribe clans for land and timber. Evidence includes a copy of PT HIPs ‘contract’ with a Moi tribe clan leader, detailing a payment of US$923 for 14.2 sq km of forestlands – just US$0.65 per hectare. In contrast, when the Hong Kong-based commodities conglomerate Noble Group bought a majority stake in PT HIP in 2010, industry analysts estimated the plantation would be worth US$162 million once developed (based on a US$5,000 per hectare valuation) – or 7,812 times the price received by Moi tribe landowners per hectare.
Clear-Cut Exploitation also details payments as low as US$25 per cubic meter to landowners for timber harvested during clearance of their forests, including for valuable merbau. EIA research reveals the company then exported merbau for US$875 per cubic metre, making millions in profit. EIA/Telapak research further highlights a history of legal irregularities in the plantation’s development and in timber harvesting – crimes never punished by Government officials tasked with safeguarding West Papua’s forests and people. Violations include forest clearance and timber utilisation prior to permits being issued, and failure to develop smallholder estates in line with legal requirements. Development benefits such as houses, vehicles and education which were promised to impoverished landowners by the plantation company have not materialised.
Jago Wadley, EIA Senior Forest Campaigner said: “Papuans, some of the poorest citizens in Indonesia, are being utterly exploited in legally questionable oil palm land deals that provide huge financial opportunities for international investors at the expense of the people and forests of West Papua.” The briefing also outlines how Norway has a stake in the plantation via the multi-million dollar shareholdings of its sovereign wealth fund – the world’s biggest – in Noble Group. Norway has been internationally feted as a climate change leader following its significant political and financial investment in efforts to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) in Indonesia and elsewhere.
EIA and Telapak argue that such contradictions highlight how, if left unreformed, investment and commodity markets will continue to destroy forests and undermine local communities in spite of efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation. “That Norway – Indonesia’s biggest REDD+ donor – will also profit from this destructive exploitation is ironic in the extreme. Norway could be paying Papuans to maintain their forests instead of profiting from deforestation in West Papua,” said Telapak Forests Campaigner Abu Meridian.
Papua, at the far east of the archipelago, has been the scene of a low-level separatist insurgency for decades. The Papuans have bravely resisted the menacing behaviour of the Indonesians. Surely if this subject is so easily researched, our Prime Minister must now about it – or is he simply too occupied with making a profit to notice the people that are being trampled on?