Marubeni answered our “Open Letter Concerning the Provision of Alternative Land to Former Residents of Cawang Gumilir”

May 20, 2022

Akira Harada
director of Japan Tropical Forest Action Network (JATAN)

In Cawang Guimilir Community, not only their farmland but also the public facilities such as power generation facility and elementary school and residential houses (about 200 units) were destroyed by forced expropriation accompanied by security forces (TNI and Police) twice in 2015 and 2016. Approximately 900 residents, whose livelihood basis was completely ruined, were forced to evacuate to other places such as a neighboring village of Bumi Makmur. In the seven years since then, many of the ex-residents who were scattered in different places, have been still living in a harsh evacuation life, and they continue to keep in touch with each other and count the days till they get back to the original place.

In June last year, NGOs including JATAN and researchers sent petition letter to Marubeni, the parent company of PT. Musi Hutan Persada (MHP), with our request of their support to reconstruct the lives of displaced victims. However, Marubeni's answer was found void of concreteness and content.

"MHP has continued to consult every stakeholder (local residents, local NGOs, and construction supervisory authorities) and under the guidance of the government, we have completed the selection of alternative candidate sites and returned this land to the government. We understand that the procedures for providing this alternative land to the former residents are to be led by the government."

In September the same year, the same co-signers issued an "Open Request Letter: Provision of Sites Alternative for Cawang Gumilir Community Evicted by PT. MHP" in order to remind Marubeni and MHP of their responsibilities for the forced displacement. Their new answer, which came in December last year, is quoted in full below.

In the Open Request Marubeni did not even mention our concerns, let alone discuss. Our concerns were about viability of their human rights discourse. In Question 5, we wondered if it would be possible to compensate the residents of Cawang victims using “Redress Mechanism (grievance mechanism for complaints)” for human rights protection set forth in the "Group Basic Policy on Human Rights." In addition, Question 6 asks how PT. MHP’s recent case of destruction of local farmers land would be consistent with their pledge to "engage in sincere dialogue and discussion with relevant stakeholders", which is stated in the policy. However, none of the concerns are mentioned in the "answer".

While disregarding our questions and concerns related to the human rights policy of the company, Marubeni often refers to their loyalty to the local government decisions in the two "answers”. In fact, Marubeni's bureaucratic discourse on forced displacement of Cawang Gumilir Community is not limited to the two "answers." At the meetings with NGOs from 2016 to 2017, they used the same discourse to evade their responsibilities.

For argument's sake, let's assume that the displacement was done due to higher administrative decisions by the local governments beyond the realm of a private foreign company as Marubeni insists, it is an unwavering fact that the root cause came from a crucial lack of management capability to collaborate with local stakeholders. According to an academic field research of interviewing Cawang displaced people, many of them were engaged in subcontracting jobs including planting and nurturing saplings. Marubeni and MHP were not fully aware that their plantation business depended on the local workforce including ex-Cawang people, “illegal squatters” Marubeni call them.

Marubeni says in “Our Basic Stance on Human Rights” ---

"We will observe the laws and regulations of the countries or regions where we conduct business activities. If national laws are in contradiction with internationally recognized human rights, we will pursue solutions in which we can respect human rights principles."

Human Rights Now, a Tokyo-based international human rights NGO, reports in their comment to Survey Result that Marubeni is among Japanese trading companies which “have explicitly stated what measures they would take if international human rights standards and national standards are in conflict”.

A much more serious “contradiction” occurs between their human rights principles that they claim to have a higher status than domestic or national laws and the abusive eviction that they caused to Cawang people.

【Quote below from Marubeni (Translated by JATAN)】

RE: “An Open Letter Concerning the Provision of Alternative Land to Former Residents of Cawang Gumilir”

This is in response to your enquiry regarding “An Open Letter Concerning the Provision of Alternative Land to Former Residents of Cawang Gumilir” addressed to President and President Director, PT Musi Hutan Persada, dated 13 September, 2021.

Question 1: In the petition, we requested you to consider the possibility of return of the former population of Cawang Gumilir to Cawang. Could you tell us whether this point was considered? If yes, how was it considered, and for what reason did you come to the decision that instead of bringing back the community to Cawang, a substitute site would be provided?

Answer 1: Although Cawang Gumilir residents illegally occupied the questioned area, PT MHP had considered the possibility of their return to Cawang. However, the area was designated a protection area when the Decree of the Minister of Forestry (No. 38/Kpts-II/1996) was issued, and it is impossible for PT MHP to change the status of the land which has been officially designated a protection area. Therefore, we selected an alternative candidate site through our consultations with central and local governments and following the instruction of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

Question 2: In your reply, you have stated the selection of "alternative land" and also that the return of this land to the government has been completed. In addition, according to an article published on July 16 in the Indonesian media by “Liptuan 6,” the MHP is deliberating a 385-hectare patch of land suitable for residential living (called “Teras”) as one of the potential sites for the relocation of the former residents of Cawang Gumilir village. Is this the land referred to as “alternative candidate sites” in your response? Please let us know the location of the “alternative candidate sites” and the name of the administrative district/village under which it falls as well as the area of the land.

Answer 2: As you indicated, the land we returned to the government is the land in Teras, Musi Rawas Regency. Teras is located about seven kilometers west of the illegally occupied land within the protected area. We would like to refrain from providing detailed information, including the area of the land, since the jurisdiction over that land falls under the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

Question 3: Please tell us who selected the “alternative candidate sites” and whether you make a consultation with Cawang Gumilir people and/or the WALHI Sumsel prior to engaging in the selection process.

Answer 3: PT MHP proposed the Panglero area as an alternative candidate site in 2017. We thought the area was a suitable place for living since the land is fertile and flat. The Cawang Gumilir people, however, did not accept our suggestion. Although there were not many places which could be proposed, PT MHP selected that site as the alternative site through sincerely consulting with central and local governments and returned the site (to the government) following the instruction of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

Question 4: You have said in your response that you understand the future procedures for the provision of alternative site will be led by the government. How does your company and MHP plan to be involved in the process of providing alternative site in the future? We believe it is essential for “Kelompok Tani Hutan Cawang,” an organization representing the Cawang Gumilir community to participate in the process. We also believe facilitation by NGOs such as WALHI Sumsel is necessary in this process. Could you tell us what kind of response your company is considering about this aspect?

Answer 4: MHP returned the alternative site (to the government) following consultations with central and local governments. As for the process of land provision in the future (relocation process), MHP has no authority to interfere but will continue to watch the relocation process led by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. Additionally, we know a former executive member of WALHI is working at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. We understand that WALHI has a communication route with the Ministry.

Question 5: In the petition, we urge you to compensate people for possessions such as houses, crops, and so on, which were destroyed during the forced eviction. In this regard, WALHI Sumsel has opined that the superficies destroyed by the forced eviction includes not only houses and crops but also public facilities (including school building). Therefore, compensation for these facilities is also necessary. They also expressed the opinion that compensation should be provided not only for physical damage but also for the mental damage exerted by the forced eviction. In your company's Basic Policy on Human Rights, it is stated that "we will create a system (complaint resolution mechanism) for reporting when our business activities have a negative effect on human rights, or we have been involved in human rights violations. If such reports are received, appropriate procedures for redress will be taken once the facts are sufficiently ascertained". Through this "complaint resolution mechanism," we hope that you will seriously consider compensation for the Cawang Gumilir people. Please tell us the considerations that your company is making about dealing with this regard.

Answer 5: Please understand that PT MHP as an HTI concession holder has an obligation to protect our concession areas against unlawful occupation and the questioned occupation was conducted inside a conservation area. In spite of the situation, MHP continued to find a solution on which both sides agreed through dialog. Since 2011, when the Cawang people started to occupy the land illegally, MHP had tried to persuade them to return to their original places (Lampung province and Java Island), including telling them that their occupation was against the law and issuing a formal warning letter advising them to leave the land. In June 2015, a local government organized a meeting inviting Cawang community leaders with the aim of solving their illegal squatting. In April 2016, we provided free food aid to the people who relocated to neighboring villages and reached an agreement whereby MHP allowed the people to harvest the cassava they had planted on the occupied land. In June 2016, MHP made a payment toward the transportation expenses of the people who returned to their original places. However, unfortunately, the fact is that some of them remained on the occupied land in spite of our efforts to resolve the case. Due to this situation, the government decided to take action.

Question 6: Shortly after we received your response to the petition, the Indonesian National News Agency (ANTARA) reported on August 14, 2021, that MHP had destroyed about 15 hectares of land that had been used for more than a decade as rubber and oil palm gardens by residents of Sugihan village in the Muara Enim province. We deeply regret that your subsidiary has again taken such repressive, hard-line measures to secure land for business purposes. Your “Basic Policy on Human Rights " states that "we do not violate human rights" and "we shall engage in sincere dialogue and discussion with relevant stakeholders in order to promote initiatives in line with this Policy." In light of these policies, how can the forced removal be justified? Please let us know your company's thoughts on this issue.

Answer 6: The questioned land is a FL (Forestry Land) under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. It is designated for HTI plantation. PT MHP is obligated to manage this land and local people are not allowed to cultivate crops there. Please understand that this case of displacement has a different nature from the Cawang Gumilir case, where people occupied a conservation area. Since 2019, MHP and local government have offered several explanations and notifications to the farmers saying that it is not allowed to cultivate the questioned land. However, the state of unlawful cultivation was not solved. Therefore, MHP executed a displacement operation after consulting with the local government.

Question 7: In the future, if a land-related problem arises between residents who have been engaged in agriculture or other activities on the concession of MHP, we request you to solve the problem through dialogue instead of forced eviction, in accordance with your company’s philosophy called "Basic Policy on Human Rights." Please tell us what your company thinks about these points.

Answer 7: PT MHP, as an HTI concession holder, has made appropriate responses based on the Indonesian laws and permit issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. As described previously, even in the cases of illegal land occupation, PT MHP has sought understanding through explanation in cooperation with governments. MHP continues to try to conduct step-by-step communication.

Thank you for your attention.

Akihiko Tonsho,

Sustainability Promotion, Marubeni Corporation

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