Pages tagged "indigenous"

Our Big Finale! (Or is it?)

RAG_CampbellsVisitRawThis is it! We’ve reached the final stop on our “The Power Is In Your Palm” Tour! This morning, I accompanied Strawberry, the orphaned orangutan from Indonesia, on her final two Snack Food 20 visits, to the headquarters of Grupo Bimbo (makers of Sara Lee Bread) in Horsham, PA and Campbell Soup Company in Camden, NJ. Campbell’s is a major U.S based global food company that uses palm oil. Over the past 6 months we have met with Campbell's but the company has not made any commitments to eliminate Conflict Palm Oil from its products. Can you help us close the tour with a bang and make sure Campbell’s feel the pressure today? Grupo Bimbo is a major global food company that controls popular brands, including Sara Lee Breads and Bimbo cookies and baked goods, and uses palm oil. Over the past 6 months Grupo Bimbo has failed to respond to our requests for meetings. Last week the company finally agreed to meet with us to discuss the urgent need to eliminate Conflict Palm Oil from its products. Will you echo our demands to Campbell’s and Grupo Bimbo right now? Let’s make a call for change so loud the companies can't ignore it! 1. Post this message on Campbell’s Facebook wall: Hey Campbell’s, I won't feed my family products that contain Conflict Palm Oil. Demand responsible palm oil from your suppliers and eliminate Conflict Palm Oil from your products. The power is #InYourPalm. 2. Post this message on Sara Lee's Facebook wall: Hey Grupo Bimbo, I’m standing with orangutans, and I can’t stand by brands like Sara Lee that use Conflict Palm Oil. Demand responsible palm oil from your suppliers and eliminate Conflict Palm Oil from your products. The power is #InYourPalm. 3. Tweet at Campbell’s: Hey @CampbellSoupCo, I can’t stand by brands that use Conflict #PalmOil. The power is #InYourPalm. At the Campbell’s and Grupo Bimbo's headquarters, Strawberry and her friends from the New Jersey Palm Oil Action Team gave representatives of both companies a copy of the RAN report Conflict Palm Oil: How US Snack Food Brands are Contributing to Orangutan Extinction, Climate Change and Human Rights Violations and outlined RAN's demand to cut Conflict Palm Oil. Thank you for all of your amazing support to pressure the Snack Food 20 to eliminate Conflict Palm Oil from our food these past two months. It’s been an incredible, busy campaign push that we never could have accomplished without all of you! But this is just the beginning. We will be in touch soon as the next Palm Oil Action Team adventure unfolds... Jess Serrante

RAN Channels Small Grants to Two Major Indigenous Mobilizations in South America

Indigenous communities are mobilizing in Brazil and Ecuador, challenging the respective national governments’ plans to push large-scale expansion of oil development in the rainforest (Ecuador) and clear the way for roads, dams, agribusiness and development of other mega-projects (Brazil) that would devastate ecosystems and undermine the internationally recognized standard of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC). In Brazil, the powerful ruralista voting bloc of Congress that represents the country’s burgeoning agribusiness sector is seeking to modify Article 231 of the constitution to reduce Indigenous autonomy over their traditional territory in cases of “relevant public interest,” while simultaneously attempting to roll back the demarcation of new Indigenous territories. In a related effort, President Dilma is trying to push through measures to unilaterally reduce the boundaries of protected areas and Indigenous lands in order to build 3 major dams on the Tapajós River, and a series of additional large and medium-sized dams on its tributaries. These dams together would flood 230,000 acres of conservation units and national parks. The Chacorão Dam would also flood 50,000 acres of the Munduruku Indigenous Lands. This is illegal under Brazilian law, but those protections are threatened by these dangerous proposals. In response, in the beginning of October, a National Indigenous Mobilization, perhaps the most significant in the last 25 years in Brazil, brought together 1,500 representatives of nearly 100 Indigenous ethnicities to Brasilia for a high-profile gathering and protest at the Brazilian Congress. RAN, working in coordination with Amazon Watch and Brazilian organization Socio-Environmental Fund CASA, channeled a $5,000 Protect-an-Acre grant to support the mobilization and the fight of Munduruku community members to stop the Tapajós dams. [caption id="attachment_22295" align="alignleft" width="403"]National Indigenous Mobilization in Brasilia, Photo by Maira Irigaray National Indigenous Mobilization in Brasilia, Photo by Maira Irigaray[/caption] As Amazon Watch’s Christain Poirer reported: Based steps away from Brazil’s congressional buildings, federal ministries, and the presidential palace, the mobilization encampment proved an ideal staging point for acts of steadfast Indigenous resistance. Days were punctuated with spirited protest marches that provoked an overwhelming police response, and congressional security indiscriminately pepper spraying peaceful protestors. Yet brutality and intimidation could not dampen a hunger for justice and for respect…Targeting the heart of the agribusiness lobby in Brasilia, hundreds of protestors occupied the headquarters of the National Confederation of Agriculture, singing and dancing in celebration of a symbolic victory against the ruralistsas. Legendary Kayapo leader, Chief Raoni Metuktire, stated: “We are here because Congress wants to take our rights and extinguish our people. This assembly is important because it aims to unite our peoples against this threat.” Two weeks later, in Ecuador, close to 150 Indigenous women began an 4 day, 150 mile walk from the Amazon city of Puyo, walking high into the Andes mountains to the capital city of Quito as part of a Mobilization for Life to demonstrate the unified resistance of all 7 Indigenous nationalities potentially impacted by the Ecuadorian government’s attempts to open up 16 new oil blocks in the southern Amazon to development, as well as to call for not drilling in Yasuni National Park. Hundreds of additional supporters joined the march along the way. RAN was also able to channel a $5,000 grant to this mobilization via Global Greengrants Fund and in coordination with Land is Life and the Association of Sapara Women. Gloria Ushigua, president of the Association of Sapara Women stated: “We are marching; we are going to arrive in Quito and we are going to speak to Mr. Rafael Correa. We don’t want oil, maybe there is another way of life. We are organized, we have been organized for years, and we don’t want oil.” These two videos (in Spanish) feature the Mobilization for Life, which arrived in Quito last week:

PepsiCo Can Change -- But Will It?

[caption id="attachment_22256" align="alignleft" width="300"]RAG_PepsiCo_600 Orangutans are asking for help - will PepsiCo listen?[/caption] Thanks to you, this has been a huge week in the fight to eliminate Conflict Palm Oil from our food! Our new video with Strawberry the orangutan has been viewed over 146,000 times. Our petition to the Snack Food 20 demanding they cut Conflict Palm Oil has almost 67,000 signatures. From Minneapolis to NYC, our "The Power Is In Your Palm Tour" has now delivered demands to 7 of the Snack Food 20 with the amazing support of all of the Palm Oil Action Team members who’ve met up with us along the way. The Snack Food 20 is feeling the heat—and today we brought the spotlight directly to PepsiCo corporate headquarters in Purchase, NY. We need to make sure they know that you’re watching and demanding an end to the use of Conflict Palm Oil in their snack food products. Even if you’ve taken action with other Snack Food 20 companies, today’s the day to pressure Pepsi. Here are three things you can do right now to echo our demands to Pepsi: 1. Call Pepsi at (914) 253-2000. Here's a call script you can use:
“Hi, my name is [your name] from [your city]. I’m a [student, mom, dad...] and one of your valued customers! It concerns me that your company cannot guarantee that it is not using Conflict Palm Oil in its products. Pepsi must demand responsible palm oil from its suppliers and eliminate Conflict Palm Oil from its products. I encourage you to secure a new global responsible palm oil procurement policy and implementation plan that ensures that the palm oil in your company’s supply chain is fully traceable, legally grown, and sourced from verified responsible palm oil producers not associated with deforestation, expansion onto carbon-rich peatlands or human and labor rights violations. Thank You!”
2. Post this message on Pepsi’s Facebook wall:
Hey Pepsi, I’m standing with orangutans, and I can’t stand by brands that use Conflict Palm Oil. Demand responsible palm oil from your suppliers and eliminate Conflict Palm Oil from your products. The power is #InYourPalm.
3. Tweet at Pepsi:
Hey @PepsiCo, I can’t stand by brands that use Conflict #PalmOil. The power is #InYourPalm
At the Pepsi HQ, Strawberry and her friends from the New York Palm Oil Action Team gave representatives of Pepsi a copy of the RAN report Conflict Palm Oil: How US Snack Food Brands are Contributing to Orangutan Extinction, Climate Change and Human Rights Violations and outlined RAN's demand to cut Conflict Palm Oil. Can you call Pepsi now to add your voice to our demands? Today's visit to Pepsi is the latest company stop on The Power Is In Your Palm Tour. In the past month, Strawberry and our team have visited the headquarters of Mondelēz, Kraft Foods, Kellogg's, Smucker’s, Mars, and Dunkin Donuts to deliver the report and a similar set of demands. The Snack Food 20 are feeling the pressure from the video, thousands of photo petitions, calls, tweets, Facebook posts and Strawberry the Orangutan's visits to their HQ's. Let's keep it up!

Grassy Narrows Celebrates 10 Years of Historic Blockade

[caption id="attachment_20429" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="July ‘06 Blockade of the English River Road"][/caption] On December 2, 2002 the Indigenous youth of the Grassy Narrows First Nation lay down in the path of industrial logging machines—blocking access to their tribal homeland in Northern Ontario, Canada. The action, led by women and youth, sparked the longest standing Indigenous logging blockade in North America. Since 2004, RAN has worked closely with the Grassy Narrows community as well as activists across North America determined to stand up for Indigenous rights and defend their traditional territory from predatory logging. Together, we were able to pressure AbitibiBowater (now Resolute), the largest newsprint manufacturer in the world, to stop clear-cutting on more than 2 million acres of Grassy Narrows’ traditional territory. In 2011, a landmark judgement by the Ontario Superior Court ruled that the Government of Ontario must respect the Treaty rights of Grassy Narrows and cannot authorize an industrial activity without their consent. And now, as a decade has passed since the historic blockade began, which RAN continues to support through small grants, the Grassy Narrows community remains ever-vigilant in the face of imminent new threats to their territory. While an appeal of the court decision will be heard early next year, the Ontario government has already released a 10-year plan calling for more logging within the heart of Grassy Narrows. Meanwhile, Grassy Narrows is calling on supporters to show solidarity by helping to commemorate the 10 year anniversary of the blockade and the international support it catalyzed around the world. Please join them in celebrating resistance, sovereignty, and action in defense of their traditional territory and the earth. Visit for more information. Also, take a look at this great photo retrospective by Jon Schledewitz:

KI Nation Paddles 300 km to Protect their Wild Watershed

[caption id="attachment_19804" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="KI Indigenous Nation Watershed. Photo by Allan Lissner."][/caption] Canada's Boreal forest is part of the world’s largest land-based carbon storehouse. It is also the world’s greatest reservoir of fresh water, and is among the largest unlogged forests left on the planet. But the Boreal has been under threat for years, and, as is often the case, local Indigenous peoples who live in and off of the forest are on the front line defending this majestic forest. The people of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI), in particular, are doing some pretty inspiring work. Through our relationship with Earthroots, an Ontario, Canada-based grassroots organization, and RAN’s role as a grantmaking advisor to Global Greengrants Fund, RAN has helped provide $10,000 in support over the last few years towards the KI Indigenous Nation’s efforts to protect their vast 13,025 square km watershed in a roadless area of Boreal forest. The above mentioned grants helped support KI’s successful blockade and campaign that resulted in mining company Platinex leaving their territory, as well as a comprehensive consultation process resulting in a Watershed Declaration, which places the entire watershed off limits to industry under KI's Indigenous Law and a establishes the process required to secure KI consent prior to any decision being made affecting their lands and resources. Starting this week, the KI Nation invites you to follow a team of paddlers embarking on a two-week, 300 km canoe expedition along an ancient trading route from their remote fly-in community to Hudson’s Bay. The paddlers aim to raise awareness about the need to fully implement the KI Watershed Declaration. The community has already successfully pressured the Ontario government to withdraw approximately half of the watershed from all mining activity, and now they're calling on the Province to expand that decision to the full wild Fawn River watershed. En route on the canoe expedition they will use satellites to transmit blogs, photos, and audio to thousands of supporters via social media portals as they share the landscape with threatened woodland caribou, wolves, sturgeon, polar bears, beluga whales and the iconic northern lights. You can follow their journey, join the KI Support Facebook page and call on the Ontario government to respect KI’s demands to govern their territory and protect their land and water from unwanted mining. “The KI people have protected our entire home watershed through Indigenous Law,” said KI Chief Donny Morris. “Now we are calling on Ontario to respect our protection before this sacred landscape is poisoned by the diamond, gold, and metals mining companies who have set their sights on it.”

Deep in the Amazon, A Story is Waiting to be Told

Media technologies and professional skills are valuable tools that enable Indigenous communities living in rainforests around the world to communicate about the crisis of deforestation through sharing their stories, language, and art. Amazon Voice, a great new NGO that is working directly with the local Amazon communities based on a foundation of reciprocity and mutual respect, is giving Tzama, an Indigenous Amazon native from the Tawasap Shuar community in Ecuador, a chance to tell his people's story, his way. Tawasap is at risk. "See?” Tzama says, pointing to nearby trees planted by his great-grandfathers. “They are white these days. Normally, they are covered in fur, plants, greenery. Now nothing grows on them." Interview being conducted for the Kantza film project Shuar culture, too, is losing knowledge and numbers, but they are committed to preserving cultural memory for generations to come. "We need to document. We need the equipment, there is no more time to waste, the time is now,” says Tzama. Kantza is a film project envisioned and produced by Tzama and members of the Shuar nation, which can be supported through Kickstarter. "The things I could show you if I had a long-distance video camera," says Tzama. Those cameras, along with microphones and MacBooks, will be on the way, thanks to Amazon Voice teaming up with villagers who hope to use new tools like long-distance video cameras to create groundbreaking media projects. "We want to work together with the world,” says Tzama. “Everyone benefits from the rainforest. Everyone needs to be working together to care for it. We want to show that we, the Shuar, are here, existing, living. We are not calling on you to help us because we are in need. We are inviting the world to collaborate with us to care for the rainforest, to help themselves."

PhotoEssay: Ruin and resistance on the Xingu River

The fabled Xingu River, with its dark blue waters and unusual rock formations, is a 1230 mile long river in the north of Brazil and one of the principal tributaries of the mighty Amazon river. Here in the lower Xingu, on a 80 kilometer bend through the ancestral territory of several indigenous tribes, the Brazilian government is moving ahead with construction of the third-largest dam in the world, one of the Amazon’s most controversial “development” projects: the Belo Monte Dam. In the distance, just above the pale scraped shore in the center of the photograph, there is a small white marker: this is the proposed site of the eventual dam. To the west (right) the river water will be stanched by the dam and diverted into a gigantic reservoir, flooding hundreds of square kilometers of rainforest, farms, and portions of the urban center of the Amazonian town of Altamira. To the east (left), the river’s flow will be reduced to a malaria-infested trickle, depriving downriver communities of their lifeline. Site of Belo Monte Dam The weatherbeaten Amazonian town of Altamira, in the Brazilian state of Para, was once a farming, fishing and small-scale mining community. It has recently transformed into a dam-driven boom town, with elevated crime rates, strained social services, and increased drug and alcohol use. A third of this city (including the port shown below) will be flooded by the Belo Monte dam. Altamira Inhabitants of the region — indigenous peoples, farmers, fishers, and the townspeople of Altamira — have formed a resistance movement against the dam, known as Movimiento Xingu. This map, drawn by community members, hangs as a centerpiece in their offices in Altamira. Movimiento Xingu map The lower Xingu is the ancestral territory of many indigenous tribes, including the Arara, Juruna, Kayapo and Munducuru people. These tribes have been living off the bounty of the rivers and the forest for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The Belo Monte dam threatens their very survival. Here, members of the Munducuru tribe display strength at a meeting convened by the Movimiento Xingu on June 13th in the dam-affected community of San Antonio, approximately 50 kilometers west of Altamira. The Movimiento Xingu meeting in San Antonio was convened only days before the Brazil-hosted UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro (Rio+20) next week in order to develop local strategies of resistance to the dam, and to bring international attention to the egregious violation of human rights and the imminent threats facing the ecosystem of the Xingu. Movimiento tribal members The Belo Monte Dam, which is expected to be the third largest in the world with investments totaling upwards of $18 billion, is being financed and built by what is known as “The Consortium” — a group of Brazilian state-owned energy companies and private mining interests. Despite decades of strong local and international resistance to the proposed dam, the Consortium won “legal rights” to begin construction of the Belo Monte dam complex in late 2011. Since then, construction has moved ahead at a startling pace, with armies of dam construction crews carving out massive diversion canals through the forest, as well as building a series of coffer dams downriver from the proposed dam site. Diversion canal The scale of the undertaking for the Belo Monte Dam Complex, in terms of work force and engineering challenges, is absolutely staggering. Already, within the first year of construction, the Consortium has employed upwards of 5000 workers, working in a consistent two-shift rotation six days a week. Even at the Movimiento Xingu gathering yesterday, the dirt roads off the trans-Amazon highway were clogged with trucks and dam workers. Indigenous man and truck Many of the farmer and fisher families in the region have been displaced from their homes by the Consortium. The “community relations” tactics employed by the Consortium can vary, but as a rule the Consortium offers a small, usually insulting payment to local landowners for their property. If the payment offering is rejected, the Consortium will threaten eminent domain. Also, landowners have very little legal recourse to protect their land from expropriation, given the Brazilian Government has declared the areas surrounding construction of the Belo Monte dam as “areas of impact” and thus part of the “public interest.” In this photograph, a young boy stands at night outside the community of San Antonio, just across from a major Belo Monte work base. Many residents of San Antonio have been evicted from their properties. There have been several instances of the Consortium burning and bulldozing homes, churches and cemeteries. The Brazilian Government has plans to build 70 large dams across the Amazon rainforest over the coming decades, and they are touting hydroelectric power as a solution to Brazil’s periodic blackouts and as a “clean development” approach to global climate change. In reality, the Belo Monte dam will cause foreseeable environmental devastation, including species extinction, malarial infestation, and high CO2 emissions from the methane released by the rotting and flooded forest. If built, it will also lead to the destruction of the ancestral territory and culture of the Kayapo, the Juruna, the Arara, and the Munducuru indigenous tribes, as well as an end to the way of life of thousands of farmers and fishers in the region, who depend on the forest and the river for their livelihoods. The fight against the Belo Monte Dam has reached a critical juncture, where the survival of the forest, the river and the people of the Amazon hangs in the balance. Indigenous people threatened by Belo Monte For more information and to get involved in the fight against Belo Monte, visit

Man Up: Music Video Call-To-Action To Oppose The Keystone XL Pipeline Nov. 6th

Obama: Man Up! No to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline! Becky White and the Secret Mission have just released this catchy and hilarious protest anthem/call to action track and music video — featuring RAN's own Executive Director Rebecca Tarbotton on violin — called “Man Up!” The song calls on people to gather at the White House on November 6 to persuade President Obama to make the right decision and oppose the disastrous Keystone XL Pipeline project, the fate of which is being decided by his Administration right now. [youtube ADP4eDaRhGk 550] The movement to stop this massively destructive pipeline has brought together a wide array of unlikely allies and has exploded into a national political force to be reckoned with in a very short amount of time. Please check this out and share it widely to spread the word on this crucial and time-sensitive issue! The White House. Nov 6. Be There. Tar Sands Action These are the final moments before President Obama makes a decision to approve or reject the construction of the dirty and dangerous Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. On November 6, exactly one year before the election, thousands will come together to completely encircle the White House in an act of solidarity to convince President Obama to make the right decision to reject the Keystone XL. More than 4000 have already signed up to participate. This is fantastic, but we need thousands more! Please don’t stay at home this Sunday wondering whether your presence would have made a difference. Come stand with us for clean energy, for human rights, for all of our futures. Sign up now! “So many lives are on the line right now. The system is crashing. It’s crashing economically and it’s crashing ecologically. The stakes are too high right now for us not to make the most of this moment.” — Naomi Klein at Occupy Wall Street

Peat Fires Greet Governors' Climate and Forests Task Force Assembly

Thick smoke from burning peatlands hangs over the capital of Central Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo every morning. The smell from the smoke is pervasive, a constant reminder of how Indonesia has become the third largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. Driven by relentless and ill advised palm oil expansion, Kalimantan’s carbon rich but relatively unproductive peatlands are being rapidly drained and burned. Across Indonesia, peatland destruction is releasing up to a billion tons of carbon dioxide a year – equivalent to emissions from 200 large coal power plants - in addition to fomenting wide social conflict and destroying critical habitat for orangutans, tigers and other species. Yet economic activities on peat contribute less than 1% to Indonesia’s GDP.  Emissions from sparsely populated rural Central Kalimantan alone now exceed those of Jakarta, a sprawling traffic-choked mega-city of more than 10 million people. [caption id="attachment_16009" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Smoke Over Indonesia Photo: Creative Commons"]Smoke Over Indonesia Photo: Creative Commons[/caption] From September 20-22, Central Kalimantan played host to the annual meeting of the Governor’s Climate and Forest Task Force (GCF).  The GCF brings together California with 15 tropical forest states from the Brazilian Amazon, Peru, Mexico, Indonesia and Nigeria covering 20% of the worlds tropical forests to promote the development of REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) mechanisms in carbon markets. Ironically, with heavy smoke from peat fires disrupting flights in and out of the province, the meeting almost had to be relocated to Jakarta. REDD was initially promoted by industrialized countries as a quick, easy and cheap way to address climate change under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change as part of a wider fossil fuel emissions reduction agreement, but prospects for such a new international agreement have declined precipitously since the debacle at the Copenhagen Conference of Parties two years ago. While the urgency and importance of protecting peatlands and tropical rainforests is undeniable, at the same time, the true challenges and complexities of trying to define and implement REDD payment mechanisms on the ground at the sub-national level were in full display at the GCF meeting. [caption id="attachment_15926" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Suwido Limin shows dam constructed to restore drained peatlands and slow GHG emissions"]peat dam image[/caption] At the formal level, the outcomes of the GCF meeting were fairly straightforward.  Delegates agreed to accept the Brazilian state of Matto Grosso and Madre de Dios in Peru as new members. The next GCF annual meeting will be hosted by the state of Chiapas in Mexico. The GCF established a new fund, with $1.5 million in seed money from the U.S. State Department, to assist with state capacity building. Efforts to expand GCF membership in Europe were endorsed. Discussions among stakeholders and rights holders in the GCF side events and corridors profiled some of the greater challenges and controversies. Perhaps foremost among these is the need for rights based approaches to promote durable and just forest stewardship and green development, which was put forward forcibly by Indigenous and forest community organization participants. A strong statement was delivered to the GCF meeting by forest dependent community representatives from Aceh, Papua, Central Sulawesi and Kalimantan calling for, “guarantee on people’ full involvement and representation in every process and stage, especially in the project’s decision-making processes…rights and access to complete and comprehensive information…the right to manage and to utilize the forest and resources within it, which we have inherited from our ancestors…every decision concerning the benefits for the people should be defined by the people themselves.” Underlying and supporting this perspective, including from many GCF delegates, is a growing recognition that durable forest stewardship can only be achieved with full involvement, understanding and support of the forest dependent communities themselves. As Odigha Odigha (a Goldman Environmental Prize winner who RAN worked closely with in the 1990s), representing Nigeria's Cross River State put it, “The people in the forest are the ones that must fully understand what REDD is because they have the final responsibility, not people in London, not people in Washington.” Similarly, the former Governor of Papua strongly emphasized community rights and empowerment in his proposals for promoting low-carbon green development pathways in Indonesia’s most heavily forested province. The GCF delegates have largely returned home, but here in Borneo the peat smoke remains.  Yet, reasons for optimism in Central Kalimantan can still be found in some locally led initiatives. Native Dayak, Sudwido Limin, is not waiting for REDD to take action.  At the tropical peatland research center that he established, Sudwido showed us how they are damming up drainage canals in abandoned peatland areas, restoring forest cover and fighting peatland fires in a community based approach.  The methods they are developing could be widely applied, and combined with a strict prohibition on further peatland conversion would go a long way to leashing in Indonesia’s soaring greenhouse gas emissions. Jakarta, are you listening?

Victory for Indigenous Rights in Indonesia

[caption id="attachment_15952" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Pak Rusni at PT ISK Photo: David Gilbert/RAN 2009"]Pak Rusni at PT ISK Photo: David Gilbert/RAN 2009[/caption] In a huge win for Indigenous and forest dwelling peoples throughout Indonesia who are struggling to assert their customary land rights in the face of massive palm oil expansion, Chief Justice Mahfud M.D. has ruled that two Articles of Indonesian law used to imprison community members are unconstitutional, unlawful and invalid. Articles 21 and 47 of Indonesia's Plantation Act are responsible for the widespread criminalization of forest community members who often end up in jail for defending their land rights against the ever-encroaching expansion of oil palm plantations. Since 2004, palm oil companies, police officers, courts and judges have based legal decisions on Articles 21 and 47. These articles allowed the police to persecute forest communities standing up for their rights, essentially deeming defense of human rights illegal. Sawit Watch has documented more than 660 ongoing conflicts between Indigenous peoples and local communities with palm oil companies in Indonesia. Criminalization through Articles 21 and 47 led to the arrests and detentions of hundreds of community members. According to Norman Jiwan from Sawit Watch, the judicial review that led to this outcome came about in response to a request made by five victims of the Plantation Act's concerned articles. The five victims are:
  • Vitalis Andi and Japin are members of the Indigenous community from Silat Hulu in conflict with Sinar Mas in Ketapang District, West Kalimantan
  • Ngatimin is chairperson of BPMP of Pergulaan village in conflict with London Sumatra
  • Muhammad Rusdi, head of village Karang Mendapo community in conflict with PT Kresna Duta Agroindo, a Sinar Mas subsidiary oil palm plantation in Jambi
  • Sakri, a farmer from East Java.
According to the Jakarta Globe:
Wahyu Wagiman from the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam), who represented the plaintiffs, welcomed the ruling as a relief to more than 600 traditional communities in the country that were threatened by the law. 'Our next step is to spread the word as wide as possible and to find a way to release farmers currently charged under Articles 21 and 47, including Japin, Vitalis and Ngatimin.'
During my field visits in West Kalimantan last fall, I recorded video interviews of numerous community members fighting for justice, working around the clock to get their fellow community members out of jail. From the community of Long Teran Kanan drawing a line in the sand in response to IOI Corp. failing to recognize their native customary lands to the recent criminalization of community members in Jambi where Wilmar bulldozed Indigenous settlements for palm oil, this legal victory is a ray of hope in an otherwise dismal landscape for Indigenous rights in Indonesia. Criminalizing Indigenous peoples for taking a stand to protect their native customary land rights is unjust. This recent court ruling is a step in the right direction and bodes well for human rights.

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