Palm oil company and Indonesian police committed human rights abuses, says report

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 23 Nov 2011 13:28 GMT
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BANGKOK (AlertNet) - Indonesian police, working with a large palm oil company, forcibly evicted people from three settlements at gun point and destroyed their homes over a long-standing land conflict, a new report by the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) said.

The August incident occurred in the 20,000-hectare palm oil plantation concession of PT Asiatic Persada (PT AP) in Jambi Province on the island of Sumatra. This was after the company asked the mobile police brigade (BRIMOB) to secure control of their plantation in July following accusations the settlers were stealing fruits from the company's concession area.

The eviction of 83 families also followed a series of violent confrontations including alleged theft of police weapons and a large operation by BRIMOB to recover the weapons, the report said.

"Forced evictions at gun point and the destruction of the homes of men, women and children without warning or a court order constitute serious abuses of human rights and are contrary to police norms," Andiko, Executive Director of HuMa, an Indonesian community rights group, said in a statement.

"The company must now make reparations but individual perpetrators should also be investigated and punished in accordance with the law," he added.

On the day of the eviction, about 20 BRIMOB personnel and an unconfirmed number of staff from PT AP gathered at one settlement area and the former fired shots into the air, the report said.

"The company machine operators, who, according to the villagers, were directed by the estate managers, then proceeded to knock down the 35 houses in the settlement and bulldoze the remains of the houses into the creeks on either side of the settlement," it said.

"While PT AP staff claimed to us that time was given to the residents to remove their possessions, the community members we interviewed deny this. Some villagers claimed they were beaten when they attempted to remove their properties," the report added. 

In addition, the report said phone video footage taken by residents at the time of the incidents appeared to show PT AP company personnel looting properties both from destroyed houses and intact dwellings.

The FPP said PT AP had taken over land owned by the local communities "without recognising their rights, without compensation and without their consent."

Negotiations have failed to reach an agreement between all community members, it said, and some community members who originally settled with the company had since repudiated the deal.

The report said BRIMOB and PT AP "between them share responsibility for serious human rights violations" over the forced evictions, citing systematic intimidation of local people by the police and the destruction of property without warning or due process. FPP said that when it visited the families were living in barely-adequate temporary shelters.

PT AP is a subsidiary of the Singapore-based Wilmar Group, which is represented on the Executive Board of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and according to FPP the world’s largest palm oil trader.

Wilmar released a statement on Tuesday saying it is "puzzled" by the report's findings and that it is committed to resolving such issues "in a peaceable and fair manner."

"We are disappointed by FPP’s decision to publish the report without giving Wilmar an opportunity to read and comment on it as promised by them," the statement said.

It added that in view of the disparity between the FPP's report and the report from an independent auditor commissioned by Wilmar, Wilmar has approached the Compliance Advisory Ombudsman, a member of the World Bank, to help look into the case as well as to mediate the negotiation process between the company and affected communities. 

(Editing by Emma Batha and Rebekah Curtis)