Jokowi asked to push indigenous rights through reluctant parliament

On Tuesday, a proposed bill on the rights of indigenous peoples was excluded from Indonesia’s 2016 legislative agenda. Its frustrated supporters are now calling on President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to throw his weight behind ensuring the bill is prioritized by the nation’s parliament.

“There is still time to push the bill into the 2016 legislative agenda,” Luthfi Mutty, a lawmaker from the National Democrat (NasDem) Party, told Mongabay.

The national alliance of indigenous peoples, known as AMAN, “needs to aggressively lobby the government” to do so, he added.

AMAN has campaigned since strongman President Suharto’s fall in 1998 for a bill on the recognition and protection of indigenous peoples, whose rights are enshrined in the constitution but in no supporting legislation, a major impediment to fending off land grabs and securing their welfare.

In 2009, the bill was finally composed. After undergoing lengthy public consultations across the archipelago, it was included in the 2013 and 2014 legislative agendas, but failed to make it through both times, due in part to the forestry ministry’s inaction in shepherding it through parliament.

Last year, the bill was left off the agenda, but at a meeting in with AMAN in June, Jokowi promised to make passing it a priority. He again declared his support at a Human Rights Day celebration in December, ordering the minister of law to ensure its inclusion in this year’s legislative agenda.

On Tuesday, however, parliament’s list of 40 priority bills for 2016 failed to mention the bill. It did include draft laws on land use, mineral resources and terrorism.

AMAN secretary general Abdon Nababan expressed disappointment at the bill’s omission.

“We are a little down because [our indigenous constituents] are asking questions about the progress of the bill,” he told Mongabay. “The latest developments were so positive, and then it was left off the agenda. How do you explain that to them?”

AMAN, he added, will work harder to get the bill passed into law.

Certain windows of opportunity remain. Luthfi, the NasDem lawmaker, said that if a different bill gets passed into law, it could open a slot for the indigenous rights bill in the 2016 agenda, which might be revised mid-year. Myrna Safitri, executive director of the Epistema Institute, a Jakarta-based foundation, said Jokowi could issue a “transitional regulation” on indigenous rights in the meantime.

“The government wants to reform the economy, yet they neglect the welfare of indigenous peoples which is also about the economy,” Luthfi said.

The bill would further AMAN’s quest to secure land rights for indigenous communities. In 2013, the Constitutional Court took indigenous peoples’ customary forests out of state forests, paving the way for them to lay solid claim to their land. Without supporting leglislation at the national level, however, following up has been difficult.

“Strong resistance to the bill was also because recognising indigenous peoples will affect permit issuance on customary forests which are rich in natural resources,” Luthfi added.

This story was published with permission from Mongabay.

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