JAKARTA (INDONESIA) – Hundreds of demonstrators protested today at the Indonesian House of Representatives in Jakarta against plans to open up Indonesian protected areas to mining companies, largely foreign multinationals.
Parliamentarians were due to make a decision on this issue today and demonstrators are urging legislators not to allow mining in protected areas.
“Besides our increasing numbers in Jakarta, we are joined by an upsurge of opposition from regional government and civil society elements including indigenous people’s organizations throughout our archipelago” said in the parliamentary forecourt Ms Siti Maimunah from the Indonesian Mining Advocacy Network .
“All of this should be enough to halt the government’s search for loopholes to avoid protecting our forests and water catchments from destructive mining” she added.
The protestors include contingents from Yogyakarta Province and civil society groups, academics and lawyers. Several thousand members of the public also signed postcards addressed to Indonesian government representatives expressing their opposition to mining in protected areas.
- Mining in protected areas is a crime, say lawyers
At a press conference held on July 2 in Jakarta a panel of environmental law experts and activists declared that Indonesian government plans to open up protected areas for mining were illegal.
The Indonesian government has established a clear ban on open-cut mining in protected forests through the Forestry Law No.41 of 1999. Regardless of public outcry, the government is now searching for a loophole, and is attempting to use section 19 of the Forestry Law as a legal basis for changing the status of areas from protected forest to areas eligible for mining.
Lawyer Ahmad Santosa of the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law explained that the process undertaken so far by the Indonesian government and House of Repsresentatives had no valid legal basis due to an absence of necessary government regulations.
“The House of Representatives as the legislative body has an obligation to monitor the executive branch of government, and ensure compliance with the Forestry Law no.41 of 1999,” stated Ahmad. In his opinion, threats from mining companies to take Indonesia to an international arbitration court over curtailing existing mining leases is no source for concern, because the government has the ultimate right to act in accordance with the public interest. Moreover, the international community has an obligation to protect Indonesian forests, described as “lungs of the world”.
According to Chalid Muhammad of the Indonesian Mining Advocacy Network, the government is hell-bent on overturning protected forest status before the coming national elections in 2004. “They’re stubbornly trying to sell off Eastern Indonesia despite steadfast opposition, for example the Central Sulawesi government and House of Representatives have strongly rejected Rio Tinto and Newcrest’s plans to mine protected areas” he said. This is evidence that Jakarta’s portrayal of regional opinion is not a true representation of their positions.
- Australian embassy target of mining protest
Scores of activists from student environment groups throughout Jakarta joined a coalition of environmental community groups who protested yesterday morning (2 July 2003) at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta. “No to mining in protected forests!” shouted Ms. Alien from Friends of the Earth Indonesia / WALHI. Protest banners and placards featuring kangaroos and the Australian flag were paraded in front of the fortified embassy fence, under the guard of a heavy security and police contingent.
Speakers addressing the crowd emphasised the extent of the threat with 11.4 million hectares of protected areas under mining leases. “The granting of these mining permits opens the floodgates for 150 mines to wipe out our forests and mineral resources” said M. Ridha Saleh, WALHI’s Deputy Director.
The hour-long action was concluded with a theatrical performance by student environment groups, satirizing the sell-off of Indonesia’s forests to foreign mining interests. In the performance, the Indonesian people were represented as forest-based communities being marginalised and evicted by the government at the behest of lobbying by Australian, US and UK embassies.
Student environmentalist Mr Hardani explained his reasons for co- organizing the demonstration: “What will happen if we lose all our protected forests and are only left with poverty-inducing natural disasters?” he asked.
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT IN INDONESIA:
Imas Nurhayati, Friends of the Earth Indonesia / WALHI: +62-812 859 7435
Igor O’Neill, Mineral Policy Institute: +62-812 861 2286
Indri, Indonesian Center for Environmental Law: +62-812 925 9095