Human Rights Violations and Criminalisation of Peasant Struggle in Indonesia on the Increase
The use of violence against peasant farmers and the criminalisation of the struggle for land is on the increase in Indonesia. According to Henry Saragih of the Federation of Indonesian Peasant Unions, FSPI)*, "the majority of cases currently being dealt with by the Indonesian National Commission for Human Rights concern land disputes." The Case of Sosa Peasant Farmers, South Tapanuli, North Sumatra, Indonesia
Fifteen peasant farmers are currently on trial facing charges of criminal damage. Yet members of the security forces who shot into their peaceful demonstration on 25 August 2000, killing Febriadi Nasution, 19, and injuring six others have yet to be held accountable.
The provocation of the peasant farmers, ensuing intimidation and targeting of leaders of the North Sumatra Peasants Union (NSPU) and the Sosa Indigenous Peoples Forum (Formasa), is a thinly disguised attempt to crack down on organized assertion of peasant rights.
The case concerns the illegal appropriation of 2,000 ha of traditionally-owned land by the oil palm plantation company, PT Permata Hijau Sawit (PT PHS) and its subsidiary PT Damai Nusa Sekawan (PT DNS).
Chronology 25 August 2000: seven villagers were shot by members of the Indonesian security forces as they gathered peacefully outside the factory gates of PT PHS. 27 August: 33 peasant farmers from Panyabungan village were arrested and beaten by Special Police Unit (Brimob). They were taken to the Regency Police HQ in Padang Sidempuan where they were once again Brimob officers carried out the arrests upon breaking into beaten. people’s homes, shops and the local mosque, firing continuously into the air. Because of their intimidating behavior, villagers sought refuge in the nearby forest. Out of fear, some still sleep in the forest at night. 28 August: Febriadi Nasution died as a result of gunshot injuries. Eighteen detainees are released. The home of Panyabungan village head and Formasa activist, Nasiruddin Hasibuan, is ransacked by Brimob officers. 1 September: The remaining detainees first allowed access to legal 2 September: Relatives of the detainees met South representation. Tapanuli Chief of Police, Burhanuddin Lubis, who said he would track down and arrest Nasruddin Hasibuan plus two unnamed NSPU activists who he accused of causing unrest in Sosa. Nasruddin is still in hiding. 5 October: NSPU lawyers representing the Sosa 15 filed a counter-claim against the police. 14 October: Trial of the Sosa 15 begins. Twelve stand accused of perpetrating acts of criminal damage in the form of digging a trench. In fact PT DNS gave the go-ahead for the trench at a public meeting in order to demarcate the land under dispute. Three others are accused in connection with actions perpetrated after the shooting incident on 25 August. 19 October: The judge throws out the NSPU counter-claim. The trial has continued beginning of December 2000.
Via Campesina firmly support the NSPU in their struggle for justice and demands that the rights of peasant farmers to have access to land are respected and that the authors of the crimes committed to peasant farmers in Sosa will be punished.
Contact person of NSPU in Indonesia: Mr Harris Putra ++62-811-657942 (mobile) or ++62-61-7875027 (office)
See also in the annex: Background on the Sosa case
)* FSPI is member of Via Campesina and co-ordinator for the region North- and South East Asia. In that function FSPI is also one of the members of the International Co-ordinating Committee of Via Campesina.
Annex: Background on the Sosa case
The Sosa are an indigenous people living in around 84 villages in the Sub-district of Sosa. Like other indigenous peoples in Indonesia they have their own adat (customary law) system. According to the Sosa adat system, ancestral land cannot be sold, though it may be leased. In May 1987, this position was supported by an instruction number 591/3982 issued by the regent, HA Rasyid Nasution, that Sosa adat land could not be sold.
Since palm oil plantation companies, both state and private-owned, first set foot in Sosa in 1984, none of the many ensuing land disputes between the companies and the people have yet to be resolved, despite strenuous and largely conciliatory efforts made by the local people.
This recent incident is not the first time that violence has been used against those asserting their rights in Sosa. In August 1998, a farmer was shot during a dispute with state-owned plantation company, PTPN IV, in the Pinarik area of Sosa sub-district. Approximately 23 people were arrested and sentenced to up to a year in prison each.
The roots of this particular incident lie in the theft of 2,000 ha of adat land belonging to the people of Panyabungan, who had in fact given PT DNS permission to cultivate 2,000 ha of their land. However, in actual practice, PT DNS appropriated and planted 4,000 ha in total. Thus the local people have been campaigning ever since for the return of their land. Since the fall of Suharto ushered in a period of more open struggle, the people of Sosa have adopted peaceful occupation and picketing as part of their strategy to reclaim this land.
The Sosa Case in Full
People from a number of villages in Sosa sub-district gathered outside the factory gates of PT PHS on Friday 25 August 2000 at around 17.00, after word spread that four unknown men in civilian clothing had attempted to kidnap Ali Sati, an inhabitant of Pasar Panyabungan village, outside the same factory gates a little earlier. The kidnap attempt was witnessed by a team from Commission II of the North Sumatra Provincial Government (DPRD TkI) from Medan, who had come to investigate a number of on-going land disputes involving both state and private palm oil plantation companies in Sosa. An investigation in the field by the NSPU suggests that PT PHS in collusion with the local police force and the Brimob unit used the DPRD team visit in order to provoke an incident with the people of Sosa.
According to the testimony of his wife, Ali Sati was first contacted at 07.00 that morning by PT PHS manager, Mr Kilo-Kilo, who sent him a message telling him to gather local leaders at the site of state-owned plantation company PTP IV if they wanted to meet with the DPRD team in order to discuss the land dispute case. Ali Sati gathered a number of the local leaders and they set off, only to find that there was nobody there. On their return to the village, Ali Sati once again received a message telling him to go to the PT PHS factory, where he would find the DPRD team.
Ali Sati set off on his own this time, first having sent word to his colleagues to follow. At around 16.00, Ali Sati went into the factory while he was waiting in order to cash in a bill for the sale of some of his farm produce. As he left the factory, four men in civilian clothing grabbed Ali Sati and attempted to drag him into a vehicle parked nearby, in front of stunned members of the DPRD team who took no action to prevent the kidnap attempt. Ali Sati’s colleagues however had already arrived outside the factory gates and went to his assistance, managing to drag him out of the arms of his assailants. Nevertheless, the unidentified men managed to pull off his jacket as he struggled to get free, which contained a sum of money in the region of Rp. 7 million (The South Tapanuli Chief of Police later admitted that two of the men were his intelligence officers, Waspada 3.9.00). Word of the kidnap attempt soon spread to the village and a concerned crowd from Panyabungan and the surrounding area soon gathered outside the gates of PT PHS.
Suddenly and without warning, a Brimob unit arrived at the scene at high speed, driving straight into the crowd of people forcing them to move quickly aside and out of both fear and anger, the crowd began to yell at the Brimob unit to get out of the way, at which point Brimob responded by shooting arbitrarily into the crowd. As a result, seven people sustained gunshot wounds, including Febriadi Nasution who later died as a direct result of his injuries. As the crowd panicked and became angry, two vehicles belonging to PT PHS were set on fire in response to the shootings.
Cracking Down on Support At around 19.00 that evening, Brimob arrested Sahrial Hasibuan, 29, in front of the PT PHS factory gates, as he was on his way home back to Pasir village. Many Pasir inhabitants came to the assistance of the people of Panyabungan once they had heard of the kidnap attempt and shooting incident, as part of a network established to support each other’s struggle with the various oil palm plantation companies. Sahrial was taken into the PT PHS premises where he was interrogated and beaten. He was later taken to the South Tapanuli police HQ in Padang Sidempuan. The following day he was accompanied by the South Tapanuli chief of police, Superintendent Burhaduddin Lubis, to the police station in Pasar Ujungbatu, where a crowd of Pasir villagers had gathered. Burhanuddin told the assembled crowd that the Panyabungan village head (one of the founders of Formasa), Nasruddin Hasibuan, would be tracked down and arrested. Nasruddin is still in hiding. Sahril’s release was later secured only after the Pasir village head was forced to sign a letter stating that the people of Pasir would not go to the aid of the people of Payabungan in the future.
Arrests, Torture and Intimidation On Sunday 27 August 2000, between 08.00 and nightfall, the Brimob unit returned to Panyabungan too look for those who had ’orchestrated the demonstration’ on the previous Friday, in practice members of the NSPU and Formasa. Eye-witnesses testify that Brimob officers shot into the air as they forced their way into the houses, shops and mosque of Panyabungan, arresting 33 villagers (all men. The mother of one of those arrested described how the Brimob officers stormed into the house, firing into the ceiling as they stood demanding to know where her son was. He was in fact in bed suffering from a high fever, but the Brimob officers nevertheless dragged him out of his bed and ’loaded’ him into one of the two trucks belonging to the villagers, which they ’confiscated.’ The wife of another describes how her husband was dragged out of their home and beat him as he was in the middle of prayer. Another woman explained how she had a gun held to the side of her head as Brimob officers searched her house, ripping out one of her earrings in the process.
As Brimob rampaged through the village of Panyabungan, people took flight to seek refuge in the surrounding forest, choosing to sleep out in the open rather than face further intimidation by Indonesia’s infamous special police unit. A five-week old child died and was buried in the forest because his parents were too afraid to return home. In the weeks following the arrests, Brimob officers maintained a profile in the area, and though most people have now returned to the village and go about their daily business, some still prefer to sleep up in the forest. Of the 33 arrested, fifteen are still in detention and have been charged with causing criminal damage, including Atar Pasaribu, one of those who sustained gunshot wounds. Those released testified that not only were they beaten upon their arrest as well as in detention, and later refused medical treatment, but at one point along the journey from Panyabungan village, the men were ordered off the trucks and forced to drink the local alcoholic drink, tuak, an anathema to the pious Muslim people of Sosa.
Weak and Complicit Judiciary The trials of the 15 people charged variously with criminal damage have already begun, and are set to continue over the next few weeks. The defendants have been split into two groups – 3 who have been charged with acts of criminal damage perpetrated on 25 August, and 12 who have been similarly charged for acts perpetrated on 17 June of this year. This is the day on which the people of Sosa dug a trench in order to designate the land that they argue had been illegally appropriated by PT DNS. In fact, PT DNS had agreed at a public meeting that the people of Sosa could and should dig this trench in order to assist in the settlement of the dispute. It is important to note that under Indonesian law, in the event of an on-going land dispute, such cases are settled under civil rather than criminal law, yet the judge presiding over the case is allowing the criminal charges against the 12 to be heard. Also, a claim to bring a suit against the police for their violation not only of arrest and detention procedures, but also for the treatment they meted against the detainees was refused by the judge. His decision stated that the claim should have included the public prosecutors office as well as the police, and that on a technicality it therefore could not be heard. This is unheard of interpreted at local level as yet another example of how officialdom conspires to protect corporate interests.