Indonesian commission documents human rights abuses linked to new capital, other projects

Komnas HAM lists 1,675 total cases stemming from land disputes, environmental damage since 2022.
Pizaro Gozali Idrus
Indonesian commission documents human rights abuses linked to new capital, other projects National Commission on Human Rights Chairwoman Atnike Nova Sigiro speaks to reporters during the release of Komnas HAM’s 2023 annual report in Jakarta, June 10, 2024.
Eko Siswono Toyudho/BenarNews

Indonesia’s National Human Rights Commission expressed serious concern Monday about alleged violations associated with major infrastructure projects, including construction of a new capital, as the outgoing president accelerated development under his vision for economic growth.

In a report, the commission (Komnas HAM) said it had documented at least 1,675 cases of human rights abuses during the past three years, largely stemming from land disputes, environmental damage, and the displacement of local communities, including at the Borneo site for the nation’s future capital.

“There are human rights violations against the right to welfare, the right to justice and arbitrary actions by authorities,” Komnas HAM Commissioner Hari Kurniawan told BenarNews.

Hari said at least 535 cases of rights violations had occurred in the new capital city, Nusantara, and several national strategic projects between 2022 and 2024.

“Komnas HAM has already formed an integrated team to handle human rights cases in the new capital,” Hari said.

The commission did not list figures from the previous three-year period for comparison.

In addition to the Nusantara project in East Kalimantan province, Komnas HAM also highlighted rights violations in national strategic projects including Air Bangis in West Sumatra, Rempang Eco City in the Riau Islands, and the Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway Project.

“Komnas HAM facilitates public complaints, particularly regarding the right to welfare, as they intersect with corporate activities investing in the new capital and national strategic projects areas,” said the report by Komnas HAM, an independent body set up through a presidential decree and tasked with promoting, protecting and enforcing human rights. 

The commission also criticized the government’s nickel downstream program, which removed human rights and environmental regulations around the industry for in-country processing of the metal before it is exported overseas.

“In fact, in nickel epicenters like Sulawesi and Maluku, the percentage of poor residents has increased while poverty rates in other regions have dropped,” said the report released in Bahasa Indonesia.

10 ID-rights2.jpg
Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo (center) inspects the venue that will be used to celebrate the nation’s 79th Independence Day, at the future capital city of Nusantara in East Kalimantan province, June 5, 2024. [Indonesian Presidential Palace/handout/AFP]

Rumadi Ahmad, the deputy in charge of human rights at the Presidential Staff Office, said the government would investigate to determine if Komnas HAM’s report was merely based on public complaints or if legitimate rights violations had been found.

Indonesia has instruments for prevention of such abuses, including a presidential regulation on the strategic business and human rights plan, he said.

“Komnas HAM also has similar guidelines in the form of standards, norms, and regulations,” Rumadi told BenarNews.

With regard to law enforcement, Rumadi said authorities had begun to implement guidelines that recognize environmental activists and indigenous communities as human rights defenders who must be protected.

Nusantara concerns

On Monday, the Indonesian Audit Board (BPK), another independent agency, reported that it found several concerns regarding the Nusantara project.

It said one of the issues is the inadequate preparation for development, particularly regarding the land needed for the new capital’s infrastructure.

BPK discovered that about 40% of nearly 90,000 acres of land needed for the project are not controlled by the government. The certification process for five areas acquired through land procurement has not been completed.

In March, a coalition of civil society members and organizations in East Kalimantan criticized the New Capital City Authority for forcing about 200 residents of Sepaku district to demolish their homes, claiming the houses violated regional spatial plans and were built only after the new capital project began.

The coalition called a seven-day deadline given to the people living about three miles from the new capital’s State Palace too short. Its members also questioned the timing because this occurred during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Residents who received notices denied the authority’s allegation that they had built illegal structures, and claimed they had lived in their homes for decades. They also said they had not received clear information about compensation for their lost structures.

Jokowi’s projects

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who leaves office  in October, established the national strategic projects (PSN) to promote growth and equitable welfare, which in principle would allow all Indonesian to reap economic benefits.

The projects included in PSN encompass the development of road infrastructure, railway facilities, airports, ports, housing, oil refineries, smelters and tourist areas, according to Katadata, described as Indonesia’s leading economic and data media outlet.

Data from the Coordinating Ministry for Economic Affairs shows the government has completed 195 PSN projects from 2016 to February 2024.

10 ID-rights3.jpg
Members of the Awyu and Moi indigenous tribes perform rituals in front of the Indonesian Supreme Court building in Jakarta during a protest with environmental activists calling on the justices to revoke permits of palm oil companies set to operate on Papuan land, May 27, 2024. [Bay Ismoyo/AFP]

Airlangga Hartanto, coordinating minister for Economic Affairs, said those projects were built with a total budget of 1.5 quadrillion rupiah (U.S. $93.2 billion).

He said the government aimed to complete a total of 41 national strategic projects by the end of 2024.

Meanwhile, Arip Yogiawan said violations in the new capital city and national strategic projects indicate that their development prioritizes investment over human rights. 

Arip, who heads campaign and public engagement at Trend Asia, an organization dealing with environmental and sustainable energy issues, said such projects should include a focus on human rights. 

“This needs to be a reference since development has the potential to change the landscape and displace people, which impacts the lives of affected residents,” Arip told BenarNews.

Nazarudin Latif in Jakarta contributed to this report.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.