On June 8th, over 1,300 people, representing over 30 organizations and communities, held a peaceful action and march in the town of Balige, North Sumatra. Their demands were simple: recognition of customary land rights, an end to criminalization of peaceful protest, and respect for Indigenous Batak communities.
The action began at the office of the District Head (Bupati) and the local government offices, then proceeded to the pulp processing mill owned by Toba Pulp Lestari. Toba Pulp Lestari (TPL) is Indonesia’s largest producer of dissolving pulp, which is used for rayon and viscose fabric. Toba Pulp Lestari has been in conflict with communities for over twenty years over land grabbing and pollution issues. The action moved from location to location with a caravan of brightly decorated cars, vans, and trucks, all bearing slogans and protest demands, ending at the office of the local subdistrict head in Porsea, where the mill is located.
This action aimed to demonstrate the presence and power of the Batak communities, who have called Lake Toba home for over 13 generations. The communities in this region have been fighting for their land rights for over 20 years, as plantation companies acquired government licenses to take and use community owned lands for pulp plantations, often kicking community members off of it in the process. Activists have also faced jail time and police intimidation for peaceful protest. In December of 2016, one community–Pandumaan-Sipituhuta–had their traditional land rights acknowledged by the President of Indonesia. Despite this solitary victory, justice has not been served while more than 20 additional communities in the region are still fighting for their land rights.
This demonstration included representation from all walks of life in the area: traditional communities, farmers groups, and NGOs. In speeches, Indigenous community members presented the abuse they had experienced fighting for their rights to their land. The specific demands of the coalition organizing the protest are as follows:
- The national government must excise traditional land from the national forest estate, as stated in the constitution.
- The national government must publish laws acknowledging and protecting traditional communities.
- The national government must pressure all relevant actors to immediately stop the intimidation of local communities, including kicking them off their land, in the Lake Toba area using the excuse that the people are in the forest estate.
- The regional government must support and facilitate the release of traditional communities’ land from the national forest estate (rather than doing to opposite and intimidating communities)
- The police must fulfill the core focus of its work to serve and protect the people, rather than serve as an instrument for companies to criminalize communities that are fighting for their land rights.
- The national and regional governments must pull all permits from all companies that are causing environmental destruction and ignoring community land rights in the Lake Toba region, such as PT Toba Pulp Lestari, PT Aquafarm, PT Alegrindo, and others.
- The regional government must finalize regional laws acknowledging and protecting the rights of traditional communities.
- The national and regional governments must practice the principles of Free, Prior and Inform Consent (FPIC) in all developments.