International World Homelands under threat, Indonesian tribes rally for land rights

Homelands under threat, Indonesian tribes rally for land rights




- Advertisement -

Indonesia is home to 70 million indigenous people, but many do not have formal title to the land their families have lived on for generations

By: Beh Lih Yi

JAKARTA, March 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Thousands of Indonesian indigenous people gathered on Sumatra island on Friday to call on the government to protect their land rights as fears grow some tribes could become extinct.

A sprawling archipelago with more than 17,000 islands, Indonesia is home to an estimated 50 to 70 million indigenous people, but many do not have formal title to the land their families have lived on for generations.

For decades they have been locked in bitter battles with logging, palm oil and mining companies that have been expanding into their homelands in the resource-rich Southeast Asian nation.

- Advertisement -

President Joko Widodo has pledged to improve their lives, but activists say his ambitious plans to boost infrastructure and energy production – including by building dams – mean more tribes are at risk of being displaced.

“Even though the government has nice policies on paper, we continue to face land grabs… and forced evictions throughout Indonesia,” said Rukka Sombolinggi, deputy head of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago.

“We are willing to share, but development has to be done with our consent,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

More than 5,000 people from 2,000 indigenous communities convened in Tanjung Gusta village outside North Sumatra’s provincial capital Medan. The gathering is organised by the alliance and held every five years.

Indonesia’s Constitutional Court ruled in 2013 indigenous people have the right to manage forests where they live, in a verdict hailed as a victory for indigenous land rights.

The government last December announced it would return 13,000 hectares of customary lands to nine indigenous communities, and committed to giving back a total of 12.7 million hectares – roughly the size of Greece – to local and indigenous groups.

Indonesia’s environment and forestry minister reiterated on Friday the government’s commitment to indigenous rights.

“It was only a start and not the end of this struggle,” Siti Nurbaya Bakar told the gathering, referring to the December announcement to return customary lands.

Campaigner Sombolinggi, of the Sulawesi island’s Toraja tribe, lauded these developments but said legal reforms have been slow.

More than 230 indigenous leaders and activists are currently on trial for battling to save their homelands, she said, while at least six tribes face the threat of extinction as a result of land conflicts.

“Our livelihood and our existence are being affected. When we are evicted from our land, what else do we have?” she asked.

(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi, editing by Alisa Tang. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit

Send in your scoop to 

- Advertisement -

JTC issues stop-work order on contractor that ‘erroneously’ cleared Kranji woodlands

Singapore – The contractor that “erroneously” cleared a forested area at Kranji has announced it has been issued a stop-work order by JTC and is assisting the developer with investigations on the issue. On Feb 16, state-owned industrial property developer JTC responded...

Clementi, Dover, Kranji: Singapore’s grand conservation plan is to plant trees and destroy forests

Yes, we love to plant trees. Since Lee Kuan Yew started the whole ritual, at least 10,000 saplings are planted every year since 1963 as part of the Tree Planting campaign. Impressive indeed. Singapore Clean and Green. At the same time,...

Ex-UOB vice-president charged with mishandling over S$5.4 million

Singapore—Sixty-five-year-old Ling Shek Lun, who used to be a  vice-president at UOB, has been charged with mishandling millions of dollars, reported (ST) on Friday (Feb 19). Ling, a Singaporean who was charged in district court on Feb 10, faces two charges...

Send in your scoop to