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Millions left out as Indonesia pushes land reform, activists say

by Rina Chandran | @rinachandran | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 24 September 2018 13:32 GMT

The government's insistence on only recognising "clean and clear" land excludes conflicted areas, denying millions of people a chance for legal titles

By Rina Chandran

BANDUNG, Indonesia, Sept 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Millions of landless peasants and indigenous people in Indonesia are being left out of an ambitious push by the government to give land titles in a process that campaigners say ignores the concerns of the country's most impoverished people.

President Joko Widodo has granted ownership certificates for customary forests as the government implements a historic 2013 ruling that removed such forests from state control and formalised local peoples' rights.

But the government's insistence on only recognising "clean and clear" land excludes conflicted areas and those where ownership is disputed, denying millions of people a chance for legal titles, said Dewi Kartika, a peasants' rights activist.

"The reform process is a top-down approach directed by the government, but it should be a bottom-up process, with the involvement of peasants, fishermen and indigenous people who know the land," she said on the sidelines of a land conference.

"The reform also does not address areas under conflict or ownership disputes. The objective of the reform is to benefit those without rights, but applying the 'clean and clear' policy will not do that," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Indigenous and local communities own more than half the world's land under customary rights. Yet they only have secure legal rights to 10 percent, according to advocacy group Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI).

Governments maintain control over more than two-thirds of global forest area, much of which is claimed by local communities, RRI said in a report this month.

Widodo has vowed to return 12.7 million hectares of land to indigenous people and rural communities.

As of 2017, rights to about 1.9 million hectares of forest land have been handed out, benefiting about 500,000 households, according to the ministry of environment and forestry.

"Our target is that by 2025, all land in the country is registered," Sofyan Djalil, minister of agrarian affairs and spatial planning, said at the Global Land Forum in Bandung city.

"We may not be able to issue titles for all of it because there may be disputes or unverifiable claims," he said.

Indigenous people and farmers' groups have mapped nearly 450 areas in the country considered to be disputed, covering more than 650,000 hectares, Kartika said.

Authorities must prioritise these areas to grant rights, she said.

"If we go by the 'clean and clear' method, it may take another 1,000 years to give everyone titles," said Rukka Sombolinggi of the Indonesia-based Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago.

"We should not be held hostage by existing regulations if they deny rights of indigenous people and smallholders."

(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran. Editing by Zoe Tabary. 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 news.trust.org to see more stories.)

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