The apparent murder of a 23-year-old Indonesian villager by security guards of a company owned by Indonesian paper manufacturer Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) has sparked outrage among environmental groups worldwide, dealing a major blow to the company’s recent sustainability efforts.
Indra Pelani, an Indonesian community activist and a farmer, was allegedly beaten to death on February 27 by seven security guards of PT Wira Karya Sakti (WKS), a company owned by APP, in Jambi province, Indonesia, according to reports by Indonesian press.
The Jakarta Post quoted Jambi Police chief Brig. Gen. Bambang Sudarisman as saying that the beating started when Pelani and a friend from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) became involved in an argument with the guards when crossing a checkpoint in the area to attend a rice harvest festival.
The argument ended with the team members beating Indra while Nick was reportedly told by locals to run away. Indra died in the incident and his body was dumped some 5 kilometers from the company’s District 8 area, said Bambang.
All seven guards have since surrendered to Indonesian police.
Environmental group Greenpeace has condemned the violent incident and said that it was suspending cooperation with APP in implementing their forest conservation policy, even though it is still working with the company on the human rights aspects of their operations.
Bustar Maitar, Greenpeace’s global head of the Indonesia forest campaign, said that “the conflict resolution process must be prioritised on this case and across all APP operations in order to ensure justice is delivered”.
He called for a “fair and comprehensive investigation”, following which all individuals found responsible for Pelani’s death, including members of the security firm and APP, must be held accountable “to the fullest extent of the law”.
In an open letter of protest spearheaded by the UK Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) published on Friday, a group of 25 European NGOs demanded that APP cooperate fully with investigations and address land conflicts with communities living on concessions owned by the company.
The letter, written by groups including Friends of the Earth Netherlands, Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), and the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), was addressed to APP, the Indonesian government and embassy in Brussels, and the European Commission and delegation in Indonesia.
APP said in a statement on 2 March that it supported Greenpeace’s decision, and that pending the outcome of the investigation, it had required WKS to suspend security officers allegedly involved in the investigation.
Its “immediate priority will be to support the familty, the community, and assist with the police investigation”, it added.
The company said on Monday that it has decided to suspend operations in the area surrounding Pelani’s village, and was cutting off ties with the security company PT MCP, who was found to be in violation of its contract terms with WKS.
In its letter, the 25 NGOs noted that Indra was “part of a growing network of people monitoring illegalities in the forestry and agriculture sector”. They said that according to Indonesian law, any member of the public has the right to monitor the country’s forests.
“This act of brutality shows how communities and activists are living under a constant threat from companies reliant on raw materials, often from lands the communities own under customary law,” said the NGOs.
Poor track record on social conflict resolution
This act of brutality shows how communities and activists are living under a constant threat from companies reliant on raw materials, often from lands the communities own under customary law.
Protest letter sent by 25 European NGOs to Indonesian and European authorities
The operations of companies trading in pulp and paper, palm oil, and timber, are often complicated by social conflicts with rural communities and indigenous people who live on the concessions purchased by the corporations, and depend on the forest for their livelihood.
Common disputes include disagreement over who owns the rights to the land, disruption of community livelihoods and access to resources.
Failure to adequately address social conflicts emerged as a major weakness in APP’s corporate responsibility efforts in a report by non-profit group Rainforest Alliance, published last month.
The evaluation of APP’s progress on its sustainability commitments found that a very small proportion of several hundred social conflicts were in the process of being addressed, and only one attempt to resolve the conflict had been completed.
Rainforest Alliance’s interviews with local communities also indicated that limited progress had been made by APP to obtain ‘Free, Prior and Informed Consent’ (FPIC) from indigenous groups and communities when developing forestry operations.
A separate investigation of APP by a group of NGOs including FPP and RAN also found that APP had failed to inform communities about its policies, establish conflict resolution processes with the communities, or respond to complaints in a timely way in five villages, including Lubuk Mandersah, where Pelani was from.
The letter by European NGOs added that “should evidence be found linking APP or its subsidiary company in any way to this brutal crime, it must be held accountable in accordance with Indonesian law”.
Resolving social conflicts permanently
Conservation group WWF Indonesia has also pulled out of consultations with APP. They said in a separate statement that they will not resume them until it is clear that the murder of the villager has received justice, and that the conflict with his village is resolved.
Riko Kurniawan, executive director of forest NGO Walhi Riau, said: “We hope that justice is done this time, unlike 2010 and 2012 cases in which two farmers were killed under similar circumstances arising from social conflicts with APP suppliers in Jambi and Riau.”
In November 2010, a 40-year old farmer, Ahmad Adam, was shot to death by police during a rally in Senyerang village, Jambi. The farmers had been trying to negotiate for about 7,000 hectares of land, which had been taken over by WKS in 2001, to be returned to them.
In 2012, a man was found dead in a peat canal on a concession owned by APP’s supplier company PT Suntara Gajapati. Despite findings by the National Human Rights concession that the incident was likely linked to the ongoing conflict between the company and farmers over land rights, the incident was never brought to court or resolved.
In a statement following Pelani’s death, APP said it is committed to putting all its resources into working with the community, Greenpeace, Walhi and the police to ensure that justice is done.
“APP welcomes the suggestion of an independent joint fact finding team to shed light on the case and ensure that this will not happen again in the future,” it said.
Update: APP on March 13 updated that representatives from the company had met the family of Indra Pelani to offer condolences and pay respects.
On March 16, APP announced that company representatives had met with the Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights to formally welcome an independent investigation into Pelani’s death. The initial data collected by an internal audit team had been submitted, APP said.