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Interview with Bernadinus Steni, HuMa: “REDD should be a way of supporting and strengthening the tenure of local communities and indigenous peoples that manage forests sustainably”

Interview with Bernadinus Steni, HuMa (Perkumpulan untuk Permbaharuan Hukum Berbasis Masyarakat dan Ekologis – Association for Community Based and Ecological Law Reform), Jakarta, April 2012.

REDD-Monitor: Please start with some background about HuMa and the role the organisation plays in Indonesia.

Bernadinus Steni: HuMa is a legal-based organisation working on human rights and natural resources issues. We were established in 2001 and since then focus our work to democratize law-making processes in Indonesia. We work especially with and for indigenous peoples and local communities who have direct access to and control of natural resources.

We started working on climate change issues in 2007, since the UNFCCC meeting in Bali. We had a link to climate change because we worked on forest issues. In Indonesia, around 60 to 80 million people live in or near forests and depend on forests for their livelihoods.

We thought at the time of the Bali meeting that we should follow the substance and process critically, especially in the legal context and the policy making process.

We have also produced an organisational position based on the concerns of the members of HuMa. HuMa is a membership-based organisation, and our members have concerns on climate change, especially on REDD. We try to influence policies based on our views. We start by promoting a rights-based approach, aiming to get human rights standards reflected in all of government policy.

If human rights are not reflected then we have to challenge those policies. There are some legal mechanisms that we can use to challenge policies, such as the constitutional court or even district courts.

REDD-Monitor: How many people does HuMa have specifically working on REDD?

Bernadinus Steni: Only two. But let me explain first. HuMa approaches REDD not as it’s often promoted with carbon markets or as an offset mechanism. HuMa believes that REDD should be a way of supporting and strengthening the tenure of local communities and indigenous peoples that manage forests sustainably as community forests. They should be part of the definition of this process. Instead of reflecting the global agenda, REDD should be coming from the ground, from communities, and reflecting the real situation at the community level. Forest communities should be at the centre of this process. That’s HuMa’s belief.

REDD-Monitor: How many people in total work at HuMa?

Bernadinus Steni: On everything, there are 16 people.

REDD-Monitor: What is your position on REDD?

Bernadinus Steni

Bernadinus Steni: I have to read it. This is the position of HuMa’s members as an association: We believe that HuMa must address the issue of climate change not in a technocratic way, but by adopting the philosophy of Gaia, which regards the Earth as a living being, even Mother, for example in the view of Amungme people in Papua. Brutal and massive exploitation of the Earth has never been and will never be compatible with the philosophy of Gaia. HuMa believes that the Earth can be saved if the commodification of climate change driven by high-emission consumption patterns in developed countries and its total immitation by developing countries are put to a full stop, followed by a crisis reversal, among them is by making manifest practices of local communities and indigenous peoples, also other practitioners that manage natural resources sustainably and fairly, as a guardian and manager of public good. Those practices must be institutionalized in Indonesia’s new constitutionalism in which local communities and indigenous peoples’ tenurial control to their natural resources and territories, also the rights of the above-mentioned promoters and practitioners of environmental justice, are strongly entrenched. HuMa encourages local communities, backed by critical movement of community law facilitators to take up a role in promoting a model of sustainable natural resources control as a solution to the problem of emissions that caused climate change.

REDD-Monitor: Do you want to say more about how HuMa works to promote this position in Indonesia?

Bernadinus Steni: First we start with legal critical training on climate change especially by looking at the international laws itself. It’s difficult to link the main goals of climate change if our national laws are still like business as usual, running the development process in the previous paradigm. From the start we have to see these laws critically and need change.

We see some space in the existing debate on REDD, there are some processes that can be used to change policies, especially related to deforestation and degradation. So we don’t look at REDD only as something that is monopolised by developed countries. We also see that some terms, especially deforestation and degradation, can be used to challenge existing national laws which should be in line with the real needs to halt deforestation and forest degradation. Such change is needed in Indonesia with its high rate of deforestation and frequent conflicts with peoples living in and around forests.

We agree with and promote the concept of a moratorium. HuMa is one of the organisations involved in drafting a Common Platform for civil society to set key performance demands for the moratorium. It should not only be for two years. We need this to be longer.

REDD-Monitor: What is HuMa’s position on carbon trading?

Bernadinus Steni: HuMa’s view is that every scheme related to REDD+ must respect human rights and be based on the free, prior and informed consent of affected communities. If the scheme of carbon trading is rejected by communities, it shouldn’t be forced. In general we have to be critical about any scheme that comes from outside and has the potential to adversely impact local communities and indigenous peoples, including carbon trading. Will the scheme empower or disempower them? Will it strengthen or undermine their rights to natural resources, in this case, forests on which their livelihood depends?

In principle, we believe that Indonesian forests should be managed in a good way for the people’s welfare, just as enshrined in our Constitution. For HuMa, we don’t think it’s a good solution to force communities that still live their traditional ways of life to the one single global agenda of creating carbon markets. We strongly believe that they have better options to manage forest sustainably without the turbulence of cash money, not only from carbon market but from the agenda of commercializing REDD to simply reduce it to “easy money scheme”. They could keep their way of life as long as they want to. We shouldn’t force them to follow outsiders’ needs.

REDD-Monitor: What is HuMa’s view of the US$1 billion Indonesia-Norway REDD deal?

Bernadinus Steni: We appreciate that in a way because it started the national process running in the first place. But to some extent we see that as part of the obligation of developed countries. US$1 billion is not enough. The North should pay more as part of their ecological debt.

HuMa is taking the role of promoting rights-based safeguards. We believe that this process can be part of accelerating policy reform in Indonesia, not to achieve carbon trading but to support national processes to reform forest policies, halt deforestation and forest degradation and support and strengthen the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.

REDD-Monitor: Last year you wrote an article in the Jakarta Post, the headline was “For Indonesia’s forests, a broken promise” and you were very critical of the moratorium under the Indonesia-Norway REDD deal. Do you think that things have improved since then or is your opinion the same as it was a year ago?

Bernadinus Steni: It’s a difficult question! I think it’s still the same.

REDD-Monitor: In particular with what’s happening in Aceh at the moment.

Bernadinus Steni: Yes. This is among the issues that I raised last year and I think it is evidence that what we were concerned about has happened. Without strong commitment and strong law enforcement cases like that one in Aceh will happen on the ground. I think it’s not only in Aceh. We are planning with colleagues from the network to report the violations of the moratorium on the ground. We will release this in May to coincide with one year of the moratorium. Based on the violations happening on the ground we will produce concrete proposals for how the moratorium could be achieved.

REDD-Monitor: Was HuMa involved in the discussions on illegal logging before the EU-Indonesia Voluntary Partnership Agreement was signed last year?

Bernadinus Steni: We were part of the critical movement against that term. In 2004, we didn’t see the term “illegal logging” as a good term to capture the operations on the ground of big companies. We believe that it should be another term to avoid using “illegal logging” to judge forest communities and smallholders. The target should be the big companies that pay them to cut the trees. But those that have large amounts of money for their operations have not been processed before the courts.

We promote the term “destructive logging” to replace “illegal logging”. The term “illegal logging” risks criminalising forest communities because they have no licences and often no legal recognition. They are automatically defined as illegal. Many of them cut trees only for small houses or for their subsistence life. We have many examples of people captured because of this term, “illegal logging”. And that’s why we criticise a specific law on “illegal logging”. We don’t agree with that. We think that “destructive logging” is not a problem of less regulation. Indonesia has hundreds of laws and policies to protect the nature but the enforcement is very weak. So, in our point of view, the problem is rooted in law enforcement.

REDD-Monitor: And do you think there are lessons from the discussion on illegal logging for the debate on REDD at the moment?

Bernadinus Steni: We think so. The big lesson is to investigate the track records of the big companies and their massive operations that destroy the forest. They should not be paid for their bad track record. Actors that have a history of forest destruction should not be part of REDD developments. They have to take responsibility for their previous operations. Otherwise all of the major actors of deforestation and forest degradation will be a part of REDD.

REDD-Monitor: HuMa’s done a lot of work on safeguards and REDD. Please explain what HuMa’s position is on safeguards.

Bernadinus Steni: We promote rights based safeguards. Why? Because that’s the only way in the REDD regime we have a handle to promote our issues: human rights and rights to environment. Where you can promote these issues if not in safeguards?

REDD-Monitor: Is HuMa involved in any of the working groups of the REDD+ Task Force?

Bernadinus Steni: Previously, yes. In 2011, we were invited to give comments on this. Now we are formally and informally involved with the working groups because we are an organisation working on legal issues and if we want to change policy we have to engage in this sort of process.

But we come with a critical perspective. We don’t engage in all of the REDD discussions. We see some parts that are in line with our organisation’s vision – like safeguards, for example. The concept of a moratorium is another one, even though some people say that the idea of a moratorium is not really related to REDD, Indonesian NGOs have been demanding a moratorium for many years. We choose these two issues to follow in the current discussions.

REDD-Monitor: And was HuMa involved in any of the discussion for the REDD+ National Strategy, which I understand is now a draft waiting for the President’s signature?

Bernadinus Steni: Yes, not only HuMa but more than 20 organisations at the time gave inputs on how to set up a National REDD+ Strategy. If you look at the content of the national strategy, it’s not a business plan of REDD actually, in a way it’s the story of how to manage forests. That’s why we chose to get involved and gave inputs and comments. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we oppose. Now there are some parts of national strategy that reflect the position of CSOs, including what people posted two years ago during the consultations. Hopefully they will be still there when it is endorsed by the President.

REDD-Monitor: So you’re quite happy with it as it stands?

Bernadinus Steni: Why are you asking me that question? I’m not happy! [Laughing.] If you ask me if I’m happy, of course not! It’s just a policy. The crucial thing is whether it will be implemented. We are waiting for real change on the ground, from the government, how they implement this strategy. Even if the language is very good, if it’s not implemented, then what’s the use?

REDD-Monitor: Did you go to Durban?

Bernadinus Steni: No, but one of our staff (Anggalia Putri) was there.

REDD-Monitor: Where you at Cancún?

Bernadinus Steni: No. I was unhappy because of the Copenhagen Accord and I decided I would not go to the UNFCCC meetings after that. But maybe next time I will go.

REDD-Monitor: You’ve still been following the outcome of what came out of these meetings. What’s your opinion of what’s come out of the Durban and Cancún meetings on REDD?

Bernadinus Steni: The international process regarding safeguards implementation was somehow stuck in Durban and the struggle returned to the national process. What I’m thinking is, if all of the forest communities developed an original REDD regime then it will be useful – including their traditional management systems as part of the standards. I would be happy with that.

REDD-Monitor: But at the moment the safeguards are behind the words “promote and support”, which could mean anything.

Bernadinus Steni: We propose a process that safeguards should be verified. So it is a way to establish accountability. And a way to avoid minimising or undermining the standards that are proposed. Even if the standards are very good, if it’s only a suggestion, it will be nothing. The verification should be a way to decide whether REDD will be go ahead or not. If the verification process is failed, then there should not be a project.

REDD-Monitor: There’s been a lot of discussion about REDD in Indonesia. There are about 40 REDD projects been set up. The President has said a lot of positive things about reducing deforestation. But at the same time there are expanding areas of oil palm concessions, pulp and paper plantations and mining concessions. Business as usual. Are you optimistic or pessimistic about REDD in Indonesia?

Bernadinus Steni: I’m quite pessimistic in terms of the government having no clear target to actually halt deforestation. Not only central government, district government has more power to control forest and they can give licenses without control from central government. In that way, I’m quite pessimistic. If central government in Jakarta had strong control and the power to control licenses, not only from their office but also coming from the district and provincial government, maybe that would make a difference. Maybe. But for the time-being it’s difficult. It is mainly a political process and political parties are also involved, which makes things even more difficult to control.

But if REDD could be defined as forest peoples managing their forest traditionally and they will be recognised, then it would be great. The original definition of REDD, halting deforestation and degradation, is good. If it could be appropriately applied as to empower communities rights and save the forest, not just carbon.

I think Indonesia should define REDD themselves in response to the demands of local communities, not just follow the line from the international agenda. This would be REDD defined in an Indonesian way, not in terms of global market needs. The concept should come from Indonesia. The only way to do that is by including those who really manage the forest in a sustainable way: forest communities.

This interview is the eighth in a series of interviews with key REDD actors in Indonesia. REDD-Monitor gratefully acknowledges funding from ICCO for this project.

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  1. Good interview. Is there a contact address for Bernadinus Steni?


    Nigel Miles