President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration has rejected claims that it opposes the indigenous peoples bill initiated by the House of Representatives.
The government fully supported the bill but would first review parts that could trigger conflict with existing regulations on indigenous people, a Home Ministry official told The Jakarta Post on Monday.
“The claim that we reject the bill is wrong,” said the Home Ministry’s legal bureau head, Widodo Sigit Pudjianto.
Indigenous people activists were upset in mid-April after the government appeared to be of the opinion that there was no urgency for Indonesia to have a special law on indigenous people. They learned it through a document leaked to the media.
The document was a letter sent by Home Minister Tjahjo Kumolo to State Secretary Pratikno on April 11 suggesting the bill – officially called the Acknowledgement and Protection of Customary Communities Bill – was not a necessity for Indonesia’s indigenous people.
In the letter, Tjahjo argued that the bill could likely ignite new conflicts, rejuvenate local faiths that had yet to be regulated by the state and create a financial burden for Jakarta.
The Alliance of Indigenous Peoples (AMAN), a prominent NGO focusing on indigenous people and human rights, was quick to censure the decision as a failure of Jokowi to fulfill his 2014 campaign promise to improve the livelihoods of indigenous people in the country.
“The logic used by Tjahjo Kumolo in his letter was a serious fallacy,” said AMAN secretary-general Rukka Sombolinggi. She admitted the country did have numerous regulations on indigenous people but said these had failed to protect dozens of millions of indigenous people in exercising their rights and were the primary cause of “neglect and abuse” against them.
Jokowi, who promised during his 2014 campaign trail to improve the livelihoods of Indonesian indigenous people, has appointed the Home Ministry as a coordinator of the government’s team that would deliberate the bill with the House.
“We cannot refuse to carry out the President’s order,” said Widodo.
“We have to check some claims first, including the scale of violations against indigenous people.”
In a national inquiry published in March 2016, the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) reported that the number of land conflicts involving indigenous people had surged from 1,213 in 2012 to 2,483 in 2014.