Tag Archives: Indonesia

Week in links – Week 27/2012 – grab some sugar (or water) with your land?

Incredibly, its been about 7 months since my last WIL, but I thought I might dust the institution off now that the summer is upon me. As usual, it would be more accurate to describe this as a month in links, but here goes.

First, a moment to note the passing last month of Elinor Ostrom, a pioneering economist who decided that the commons might not actually be so tragic after all. At the top of my list of readings for whenever I eventually become an actual rather than frustrated academic. One of those scholars where even if one has yet to read her, one suspects she has colored analysis of these issues so thoroughly that her works will seem familiar.

Next, on the familiar theme of the global land rush/grab, a few items of interest recently. First, Grain just came out with a new report arguing that much of the land investment going on in Africa is actually targeting the scarce water resources necessary for large-scale agriculture – and in a manner heedlessly destructive of local, sustainable water management systems. Second, the Journal of Peasant Studies has been cranking out an amazing amount of analysis of the land grab phenomenon in all three issues of this year’s volume 39 (many articles available for free download).

And finally, Human Rights Watch released a grim report last month detailing the Ethiopian government’s self-inflicted land grab in the southern Omo valley, where a dam and state-run sugar plantations are expected to run 300,000 indigenous persons off their land, while ruining the livelihoods of a further 200,000 to the south in Kenya’s Lake Turkana region:

These developments – which threaten the economic, social, and cultural rights of the Omo valley’s indigenous inhabitants – are being carried out in contravention of domestic and international human rights standards, which call for the recognition of property rights, with meaningful consultation, consent, and compensation for loss of land, livelihoods, and food security, and which state that displacement, especially of indigenous peoples from their historic homelands, must be treated as an absolute last resort.

If that doesn’t drive home the message that sugar is the new palm oil, this video from Cambodia may. David Pred, who is pushing for the EU to take a more rigorous approach to human rights abuses related to Cambodian land concessions will hopefully guest post on the blood sugar phenomenon shortly.

Not that palm oil has reformed, mind you. The Economist provided a timely reminder of the inverse relationship between the money to be had from this lucrative form of monoculture and the chances of Indonesian-controlled West Papua ever being able to achieve ‘external’ self-determination in the manner East Timor did. Meanwhile, the ICTJ rather bravely attempts to promote a transitional justice approach to a situation in West Papua where the only transition seems to be toward more oppressive and militarized control and less chances of even meaningful internal self-determination (e.g. autonomy).

Update: See David Pred, Is the European Commission sweet on land grabbing? How trade benefits to sugar companies displace Cambodian farmers (23 July 2012)

Week in links – Week 48/2011

Lots to report on recently, but I have been caught up in my annual push to clear my consultancy inbox before the holidays. Could be thin pickings this week as well, as I will be doing my fourth turn as co-facilitator and coordinator for a very engaging advanced course on internal displacement held at Sida’s ‘Partnership Forum‘ in the mind-focusing north of Sweden (with winter coming on and the sun rising at 9 a.m. and setting just after 2 p.m., it can be a bit like holding a training in outer space!)

That said, the most obvious story from last week is the apparent opening of Myanmar, as indicated by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s much-discussed visit. I planned to summarize some of the land and natural resource issues arising from Myanmar’s tentative political transition here and now, but quickly found that there were too many! More than enough to justify a separate posting, at least, which I hope will come before the end of the week.

A less ballyhooed event last week was the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the independent state of West Papua. If you haven’t heard of it, that may be because it only lasted a year before being incorporated into Indonesia via a dubious ‘Act of Free Choice’. Hugh Brody gives an angry appraisal of the territory’s subsequent and ongoing misery, with some of the world’s most isolated indigenous peoples threatened by an alliance of military force and mining interests. The case of West Papua is similar to that of Western Sahara, East Timor, and other territories that essentially went straight from the frying pan of overseas colonialism into the fire of regional expansionism. While the East Timorese suffered greatly in the process, they ultimately exercised the right to self-determination. Whether West Papua or Western Sahara will follow suit remains less clear.

Also on OpenDemocracy, Luis Cabrera makes an intriguing argument for the morality of illegal migration as a response to the immorality of the continued extreme levels of inequality between the countries that produce migrants and those that attract them:

More specifically, the claim is that by illicitly crossing borders in order to better provide for themselves and their families, unauthorized migrants are implicitly claiming some core human rights. Because most of the rich, immigrant-receiving countries have formally bound themselves to treaties proclaiming the importance of those universal rights—to adequate food, decent work, and an overall adequate standard of living—the migrants can plausibly be viewed as challenging rich countries to make good on their promises.

This argument is the mirror image of the objection many human rights and humanitarian actors initially had against the 1990s effort to organize an international response to internal displacement. In effect, critics viewed such efforts as a means for rich countries to shirk their responsibility to provide international protection to refugees by discouraging them from crossing state borders to claim what, under international law, was their due.

Three articles on indigenous land rights issues

by Rhodri C. Williams

Its November 25 and I find myself in the center of what was once the Powhatan Confederation, commemorating the humanitarian impulses of the Wampanoag tribe further north by eating an improbably huge bird in the community of my large, wonderful and distinctly non-Native American family. Not a bad time to reflect on the ongoing struggles of indigenous groups worldwide to maintain the autonomy and connections to their land they long since lost on the East Coast of the USA. To that end, a few interesting recent articles:

– The New York Times ran a long piece the week before last on ‘Bushmen’ in Botswana. At the heart of the piece – and the controversy there – is whether continued adherence to an authentically indigenous lifestyle is an appropriate condition to impose for allowing indigenous groups to remain on traditional lands envisioned as nature reserves. In Botswana, the government has pushed Bushmen off such a reserve based on the allegation that they have given up traditional sustainable livelihoods and are damaging the ecosystem (and optics) of the park as a result. Are such conditions compatible with the right of indigenous groups to determine their own development path? Is this right to be interpreted more narrowly in areas deemed nature reserves? All questions for a future decision by the African Commission (or Court!) of Human and Peoples’ Rights, no doubt…

– Well outside the purview of the ACHPR, the Minority Rights Group blog describes use of land confiscation and ‘mega-plantations’ by the Indonesian authorities to allegedly alter the ethnic balance in West Papua by importing workers from elsewhere. In the words of an indigenous activist, “Indonesia doesn’t want our people, they just want our land.” More on displacement in West Papua in a recent update by IDMC.

And finally, on a far more hopeful note, OpenDemocracy carries the story of the Anishinabe (more colloquially known as the Ojibwe or Chippewa) in Wisconsin. In the 1980s, the Anishinabe began asserting their usufructuary rights to land ceded under long-forgotten treaties by resuming traditional spear-fishing on ponds. By the time I went to college in Minnesota in the early 1990s, the result was an extremely tense standoff with a hardcore group of sport fishermen (more colloquially known as rednecks), in which both sides were refusing to back down. In the above-cited piece, Tom H. Hastings describes how the persistence of the Anishinabe eventually prevailed.

Happy Thanksgiving.