[ISG] Can formalisation of adat law protect community rights?

Indonesia Study Group by Kathryn Robinson ANU

By Ruth Nikijuluw

On 9 May 2018, Professor Kathryn Robinson discussed the case of the land-rights conflicts in the area of Sorowako nickel project in South Sulawesi during the Indonesia Study Group (ISG). She has followed developments in Sorowako from her original doctoral fieldwork in the 1970s until the present (with a current ARC Discovery project investigating the long term impacts). The nickel project is one of the widespread dispossession of village lands, which were very common under the New Order era. The Orang Asli Sorowako (OAS), who regard themselves as the original landowners of the concession area, have fought for their land rights since the 1970s. This movement continues to emerge, more recently in relation with land extensive investment projects, and this includes new demands from younger generation to be included in the workforce of the mining company and to get access to the project’s facilities. The conflict has been more complicated after the reformation as the return of the Dongi, who is also regarded as rubic (masyarakat adat) in the area.

The organization AMAN, which emerged as a champion of those dispossessed under the New Order, has had considerable political success under Jokowi presidency in championing ‘’indigenous rights’’, mostly through formalisation of adat-based rights. This presentation, however, highlights that this remedy would not be effective unless the cultural problem has been resolved, especially in the identities framing between the affected people versus the rubic group. In addition to solving the adverse dispossession, any acknowledgement of adat-based rights should also recognize the community that use the land for their livelihood and depend on the resources for their living. This approach can mitigate further risks to the livelihoods and right of groups who are not recognised as masyarakat adat/indigenous by the government. Furthermore, the formalisation effort also should ensure that those affected by the rules can participate in the governance through modifying the rules to local needs and conditions.

The presentation material for this discussion is available for download here, and the podcast here.