This paper highlights the ways that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected and disenfranchised indigenous peoples and forest communities in Indonesia. The lack of adequate protection of the rights of indigenous peoples and their territories before the pandemic has been made worse by a lack of protection during the pandemic. The challenges faced by forest communities during the pandemic show that access to land and natural resources is crucial for the survival of communities whose livelihoods depend on the forest. Moreover, evidence from areas where indigenous peoples do have control over their land holds important lessons on how indigenous peoples build resilience when managing their own land and natural resources.
The paper highlights how state impunity for increasing land grabs and reduced state capacity to monitor forests during the pandemic seriously threaten indigenous peoples’ land rights, health, and well-being. This paper also calls particular attention to how the Omnibus Law on Job Creation was rushed through the Indonesian legislature during lockdown without due process or respect for indigenous peoples’ rights. The Omnibus Law changed and amended several existing laws including sectoral laws on environmental protection, land use, and public consultation. The government justified pushing through this new law as a response to the economic recession triggered by the pandemic, with the aim of creating a larger (formal) workforce and speeding up extractive and natural resource-based industries. However, this Omnibus Law is projected to negatively affect the ways in which indigenous peoples living in and around forests can access their land and puts them at a disadvantage in relation to corporations with commercial interests. With historical and ongoing human rights violations already rampant in conflicts between indigenous peoples and commercial entities, there is widespread concern that the Omnibus Law will further side-line indigenous peoples’ rights and paint them as obstacles to economic growth. Moreover, the report includes several anecdotal stories of the state responding to indigenous activism during the pandemic with increased criminalisation.
This paper concludes with several recommendations. Critically, the report appeals for immediate approval of the long-delayed Indigenous Peoples Bill in order to finally have the rights of indigenous peoples recognized and protected by the state, thereby also securing better protection for forests.
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Forest Peoples Programme supports the rights of peoples who live in forests and depend on them for their livelihoods. We work to create political space for forest peoples to secure rights, control their lands and decide their own futures.