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11 May 2020

Indonesia: Attacks on land defenders are intensifying while govt. is trying to increase executive power & simplify investment

In Indonesia, one of the countries in Asia worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, land conflicts have been intensifying. Activists are denouncing that companies embroiled in these disputes with rural communities appear to be using the lull in oversight during the COVID-19 outbreak to strengthen their claims. Two local land defenders have been killed, four were arrested and at least two were seriously injured recently in connection with land disputes in Sumatra and Kalimantan. This is in the context of the government trying to pass an Omnibus Law on Job Creation by mid-year, which is meant to streamline business permits, investment requirements, and labour laws by simplifying 79 laws that are believed to hamper business. The move is criticized by environmental and human rights groups that say the bill would give the executive near-absolute power and would further reduce the strength of the environmental review process for risky business projects.

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre has reached out to the companies that have been linked to recent killings and arrests of land rights defenders - palm oil company Hamparan Masawit Bangun Persada (HMBP), palm oil company PT Bukit Barisan Indah Permai (which Artha Prigel is part of), which is part of Sawit Mas Group; and mining company Merdeka Copper Gold, the parent company of Pt Bumi Suksesindo and PT Damai Suksesindo. We also wrote to the alleged buyers of palm oil from PT Bukit Barisan Indah Permai - Louis Dreyfus, Mondelēz International, Musim Mas, Wilmar International, and Procter & Gamble - that were publicly mentioned in the articles about the situation. They are all members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which has a policy on human rights defenders. Civil society insists the policy should be applied in these cases, and some companies have referred to it in their responses to us. All companies, but Hamparan Masawit Bangun Persada (HMBP), responded to our invitation. Their responses are below. Civil society group WALHI sent a rejoinder to Merdeka Copper Gold's response, to which the company replied.

Land rights defenders Dilik Bin Asap, Hermanus Bin Bison and James Watt Bin Atie were among those arrested. Later, Hermanus Bin Bison died in custody amid alleged ill treatment. Putra Bakti, Aman Suryadi and lainnya Sumarlin were allegedly killed by private security guards.

Company Responses

Louis Dreyfus View Response
Wilmar International View Response
Wilmar International View Response
Procter & Gamble View Response
Musim Mas View Response
Mondelēz International View Response
Merdeka Copper Gold View Response
Hamparan Masawit Bangun Persada (HMBP)

No Response