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5 Sep 2021

Hairul Sobri Eep (WALHI Sumatra Selatan), Junichi Mishiba (FoE Japan), Akira Harada (Japan Tropical Forest Action Network), Toyoyuki Kawakami (Japan Tropical Forest Action Network), Takayuki Nakatsuka (Japan Tropical Forest Action Network), Natsuko Saeki (Network for Indonesian Democracy, Japan), Masatoshi Sasaoka (Hokkaido University)

Indonesia & Japan: NGOs submit petition to Marubeni & its group company Musi Hutan Persada, urging support for displaced residents of Cawang Gumilir

"Open Letter: Petition Regarding Support for the Reconstruction of Livelihoods of the Displaced Residents of Cawang Gumilir" 21 June 2021

[...] we have urged your company to resolve the land conflict between the Cawang Gumilir community and your company. In September 2016, the international environmental NGOs Friends of the Earth Japan (FoE Japan), Japan Tropical Forest Action Network (JATAN), and the Network for Indonesian Democracy Japan (NINDJA) submitted a petition to request guarantees that the basic needs of the people of Cawang Gumilir would be supported until the conflict was finally resolved. At the same time, Junichi Mishiba, Toyoyuki Kawakami, and Akira Harada, the three NGO members listed as the senders of this petition, have been involved in seven meetings with relevant officials from your company, including its CSR and Sustainability divisions, to call for this problem to be addressed.

Subsequently, MHP took some action, including attending a meeting with WALHI Sumatra Selatan, part of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI) that supports the displaced community of Cawang Gumilir, and made promises to facilitate discussions with the government. Nevertheless, it is difficult to see any substantial improvement concerning the displacement. Many of those who were evicted have ended up leading insecure lives as field workers. There is thus an urgent need to reconstruct the livelihoods of those affected.


  1. Please explore the possibility of letting the Cawang Gumilir community return to the Cawang area.
    Many in the Cawang Gumilir community are eagerly awaiting a chance to return to the area and settle in harmonious coexistence with wild elephants. We understand that your company sees negatively the idea of their return due to voices in the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (Kementerian Lingkungan Hidup dan Kehutanan: KLHK) arguing that the area designated for conservation should be protected for wild elephants. We are also aware that you are concerned that conflicts between humans and animals would emerge after the people return. However, there is little scientific knowledge on how important the Cawang area is for the conservation of wild elephants. There is also not enough knowledge to judge whether the conflict between elephants and inhabitants is unavoidable. Sasaoka confirmed with officials of the South Sumatra Agency for Conservation of Natural Resources (Balai Konservasi Sumber Daya Alam Sumatera Selatan: BKSDA Sumatera Selatan) that detailed ecological research on seasonal habitat use patterns, food habits, and population trends of the elephants in the area has not yet been conducted. For these reasons, we urge you to consider the possibility that the Cawang Gumilir people may return to the area and rebuild a community that guarantees a peaceful relationship with the elephants, in collaboration with governmental agencies, including KLHK and WALHI Sumatra Selatan, and scientific researchers. We also request you to share the information and knowledge obtained in the process with the relevant parties.
  2. Please provide an appropriate alternative site in case it is impossible for people to return to the Cawang area.
    If you conclude that it is impossible for people to return to the Cawang area, we urge you to provide an alternative site for their resettlement and to reconstruct their livelihoods through a comprehensive consultation process. In 3 January 2018, MHP proposed an alternative site. However, since this land is part of a dispute between MHP and another local community, the people of Cawang Gumilir are concerned that relocation to the proposed site may cause new conflicts among local communities. In addition, the site in question is often flooded in the rainy season. Therefore, the representatives of the Cawang Gumilir community are opposed to the proposed relocation plan. We demand that you identify a suitable site for resettlement in consultation with the people by considering its long-term consequences not only for the Cawang Gumilir community but also for the one they would move into.
  3. Please compensate for the possessions destroyed during the eviction.
    n addition to the above, we urge you to compensate people for possessions such as houses, crops, and so on, which were destroyed during the forced eviction. Many of those who migrated to Cawang did not have or had little land where they came from. They made a living by working as day or migrant laborers. Before migrating, they obtained some money by selling what little possessions they had. With that money, they cleared farmland and built houses in Cawang. Their property rights to crops, houses, and other improvements made to the land should be recognized even if the land itself was acquired in an “illegal” way.