Sat, 12 Aug 2000

Recognition of rights of tribal people necessary

JAKARTA (JP): Legislators argued on Friday constitutional recognition of the rights of tribal lands was necessary, despite the technical complications such an amendment could cause.

Slamet Effendy Yusuf of the Golkar Party faction and Yusuf Muhammad of the National Awakening (PKB) faction urged caution, saying the technical implementation of such an article would create controversy.

Slamet conceded that granting such rights would cause confusion and disrupt some economic activity, particularly with forest and mining concessions.

"Most of the uninhabited land in the country is traditionally owned by local tribes. If they are granted such rights, it means all timber and mining firms could be stopped from operating," Slamet told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

He admitted the amendments currently being debated did not adequately guarantee the rights of local tribes but, on the other hand, there also were some people who considered the amendments as going too far toward etatism.

A working committee of the People's Consultative Assembly has proposed an addition to the draft Article 28 on human rights which would help protect traditional societal cultural identities, including the rights of the lands traditionally owned by local tribes.

The constitutional recognition of such rights could imply local tribes who are the acknowledged traditional occupants of the land could suspend economic activity on their land.

Some people, however, believe the amendments do not go far enough.

A coalition of non-governmental organizations considers the new articles ambiguous and weak, saying they fail to state clearly how the state will protect tribal rights.

Slamet remarked there was a danger these rights could bring local tribes into direct confrontation with the state, which also has the right to manage the nation's natural resources.

"The important thing is we have to establish an equilibrium between the state, the private sector and society," he said.

Yusuf Muhammad also recognized the potential for conflict. However, he contended it was more important now to focus on the fundamental issue of the recognition of tribal rights and not get bogged down in the technicalities which may later arise.

"I believe everybody agrees that we need to include the article, but let's talk about the constitutional recognition first because the technical application may create controversy in the future," Yusuf said.

Another legislator, Nursyahbani Katjasungkana, said the article should include the stipulation that the implementation of the article be regulated by a law.

"We should add that term to provide a stronger implementation of the article. However, constitutional recognition is very important," she said. (nvn/dja)