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Indigenous rights and the Harapan Rainforest Project: A letter to PT REKI from the Bathin Sembilan of Simpang Macan Luar

Harapan Rainforest Project’s website states that, “The partnership between management of Harapan Rainforest and Bathin Sembilan Tribe who lives in the forest is going well from beginning.” But a recent letter from some of the Bathin Sembilan communities suggests that things may not be going as well as Harapan would like us to believe.

On 12 December 2012, a meeting took place between about 50 Bathin Sembilan indigenous people of Simpang Macan Luar and Burung Indonesia, one of the NGOs involved in the Harapan Rainforest Project. The Bathin Sembilan are indigenous peoples whose home is the forests that are now the Harapan Rainforest Project. The notes of the meeting (available here in Indonesian, pdf file 33.7 kB) explain that the Bathin Sembilan people feel that PT REKI, the company running the Harapan Rainforest Project, is limiting the rights of indigenous peoples. The process of free, prior and informed consent certainly appears to be limited:

The management often comes already with a letter and asks for a signature as a statement of community consent.

The Bathin Sembilan moved to a “Partner Zone” under the Harapan Project, but during the meeting with Burung Indonesia they commented that there is “no life” in the Partner Zone, “because there is no long-term economic development”.

Four NGOs who are supporting the Bathin Sembilan were at the meeting (Cappa, Setara, Perkumpulan Hijau, and Agra). They explained that there are communication problems with PT REKI and that PT REKI has used the media to worsen relationships with NGOs.

During the meeting, the Harapan Management “apologised for the things that are not acceptable” and said that they are, “willing to fix things together with the communities and the NGOs”.

REDD-Monitor looks forward to posting the response from PT REKI to this letter. The original letter is available here in Bahasa Indonesia (pdf file 423.3 kB) and a German translation is available here (pdf file 96.8 kB).

Jambi, 11 February 2013

Effendy Sumardja
Director General of PT Restorasi Ekosistem Indonesia (PT REKI)

Dear Sir,

Through this letter we pray that you are in good health and are successful in carrying out your daily activities.

We, the members of the tribe Batin Sembilan, located in Simpang Macan Luar, would like to inform you that on 12 December 2012, a meeting took place between the Batin Sembilan in Simpang Macan Luar and representatives of PT REKI, organised by Mr. Manggara of Burung Indonesia. During the meeting, both parties presented their view of the problems they faced. In addition, some agreements were made, which we attach to this letter in writing. We would like to ask again with our letter to the implementation of these agreements, as follows:

  1. About the agreement which reads: “PT REKI must complete compensation of residents for the poisoned oil palms and the shrubs planted by PT REKI staff.” Until now there was no follow-up the implementation of this agreement, we would like to ask when this agreement will be implemented? Is this agreement still valid? Or, is there anything else outside of this agreement?
  2. We would also like to enquire about the progress of negotiations between the Batin Sembilan tribe of Simpang Macan Luar and PT REKI. To quote one point the agreement dated 12 December 2012: “The next meeting will take place in early January to allow time for residents to be able to consolidate their position before the meeting.” Is this agreement still valid and will it be implemented? Or, is there something else beyond this agreement?
  3. We learned, from an unofficial source, that PT REKI not has implemented the agreement further, because we, the Batin Sembilan Simpang Macan Luar with our supporting NGOs on 28 December 2012 carried out an exploration of the living area of the Batin Sembilan Simpang Macan Luar. According to PT REKI this activity is a violation of the agreement and a “fraudulent” act by Batin Sembilan Simpang Macan Luar and supporting NGOs, and therefore the implementation of the agreement was discontinued.

    We would like to explain that we carried out this exploration work to re-determine the living area of the Batin Sembilan Simpang Macan Luar that we left about 6 years ago. We left our living area and thus our land and our fields, because of the shrinking of our living area and we were forbidden to create new fields and build houses. We therefore conducted this investigation to facilitate the identification as a common activity with PT REKI.

Through this letter, we also hope that:

  1. There is no more intimidation in various forms against the Batin Sembilan tribe of Simpang Macan Luar, because we are critical of the PT REKI project. We believe that different points of view should not be faced with mutual threats, and we hope that PT REKI has a strong commitment to respect indigenous peoples in the implementation of donor policies in the Harapan Rainforest Project.
  2. We hope that PT REKI as a company, and as operator of the project to restore ecosystems, that was initiated by large companies, will provide a good example. We also hope PT REKI can give us good explanations that are easy for us to understand, and is open to a resolution of the conflict in which we currently find ourselves.
  3. We asked for a communication of things that are important not to be done informally, and it is left to us to “interpret” PT REKI’s actions, as this will leave room for misunderstanding.

Thank you for your attention and cooperation.

Yours faithfully,

On behalf of the tribe Batin Sembilan Simpang Macan Luar

UPDATE – 18 April 2013: PT REKI responded to this letter in March 2013. The original Bahasa Indonesia version is available here. An English version was posted on on 11 April 2013:

Harapan Rainforest Management responses to Hasan Badak letter, head of one indigenous family supported by a local NGO

Hasan Badak, Head of SAD Bathin 9 family at Simpang Macan Luar group
Desa Bungku

Dear Sir,

We thank you for your letter dated February 11, 2013. Our response:

1. There is no evidence of the Harapan Rainforest management in poisoning a few of your illegal oil palm trees, plantation commodity which is clearly stated as illegal in the forest area. However, given the good relations that have been going on for quite a long time between your family at Simpang Macan Luar (outer Simpang Macan) and Harapan Rainforest management, we keep the door open to work together on other plants which are more consistent with forest conservation.

On the issue of planting tree seedlings for reforestation in grove location, Mr. Dulhadi has agreed stating that this is just a matter of communication between Harapan Rainforest management with him. This problem has been considered to be settled by both parties (the meeting was being recorded).

2. We need to inform you, after a meeting on December 12, 2012, our management has taken further steps to follow up by contacting Junus as a focal point representing local NGOs CAPPA and another local NGO. We have contacted Junus at 8, 9 and January 11, 2013 to arrange schedule for the next meeting. But until now, Junus has not given any assurance of the implementation. If you still want to continue the meeting without the presence of the local NGO, or alternatively if you want to bring representatives of the indigenous people organization from SAD Bathin Sembilan, we are always ready anytime.

3. We deeply regret that you started to conduct land clearing activities in forested areas. It is a violation of the collective agreement that both of us have agreed before. We also deplore the involvement of masses from outside the forest and your intention to get more people to come into the forest to accelerate more land clearing activities. The Harapan Rainforest management and your family had made an agreement on December 12, 2012, that any activity in the field should be communicated to us first. Thus, the activities of all parties should involve your families, local NGOs and our management. We emphasize that the Harapan Rainforest management still want to work with all communities within the indigenous communities SAD Bathin Sembilan, including your family.

4. As has been proven so far, the Harapan Rainforest management never and will never intimidate or conduct any violence against your family at Simpang Macan luar, or the indigenous people of SAD Bathin Sembilan in general in the Harapan Rainforest. The whole community of SAD Bathin Sembilan in the Rainforest is a part of us and play an important role in maintaining the forest that can still be enjoyed to the next and future generations of your tribe. Thank you.


Head of Partnership Department

PHOTO Credit: Dieter Hoffmann, RSPB Head of International Country Programmes.

Leave a Reply

  1. Hai Chris! The ‘partner zone” you mean is called “Mitra Zone” – a 1000 hectare area of relocation for Bathin Sembilan people. I recently did the research there related to forest dwelling people. I did not go further to the conflict cases yet I know it is a bit tough. Hopefully the ‘soft skills’ (referring to mediation and negotiation) will break the ice!

  2. @Wardah (#1) – Thanks for this. I agree, I also hope that this can be resolved through mediation and negotiation. That seems to be very much what the Bathin Sembilan are requesting in this letter.

    Has your research on the Mitra Zone been published? I’d be very interested in seeing a copy, if so. Thanks!

  3. Ups .. That was a mistake, sorry! The area should be 10000 meter square
    (1 hectare).

    I did my research in the area of Harapan, also in Simpang Macan and some other spots. The field work have been done yet the report has not been finished yet. I am in the writing process in my university right now.
    Need more patience, Chris :)

  4. Dear Chris,

    On the basis of months of discussion with the Bathin Sembilan in Simpang Macan Luar, the management team did draw up a letter capturing the content of those discussions. It is not unusual in any negotiating situation of this kind for one of the parties to draft a memorandum of joint understanding and action of this kind. If the essence of the discussion as expressed in the letter is not considered accurate by either party, there is obviously the opportunity to clarify and redraft the letter, and we are happy to discuss this. We would like to set the record straight though, we do not limit rights of the Bathin Sembilan beyond what is stated in the law. On the contrary, Harapan Rainforest does everything it can to support their needs. Moreover, we are in the process of developing a new MoU with groups living in and around Harapan Rainforest which provides increased benefits to both parties.

    We have repeatedly contacted the four NGOs mentioned in the post: CAPPA (Community Alliance for Pulp and Paper Advocacy), Setara, Perkumpulan Hijau, and Agra to arrange meetings, regrettably without response. This offer remains open.

    At the December meeting there was an agreement that the Simpang Macan Luar and NGO groups, and PT REKI, should meet again in January 2013. Therefore, following the meeting of 12th December, PT. REKI attempted to follow up the results of this meeting, for example on January 8, on January 9 and again on January 11, 2013 our team contacted the organising NGO, CAPPA (Yunus) to inquire their availability for when the next meeting could be scheduled. Despite these requests, to date, we have had no response and are still waiting. Should the Simpang Macan Luar group wish to proceed without the NGOs, or with other mediators at their own choice, we would be more than happy to meet. The Simpang Macan Luar group understands this.

    The community you refer to as having moved into the “partner zone” is not related to the Simpang Macan Luar family. However, Harapan has welcomed the presence of this group, providing them with job opportunities, access to free schooling, water, healthcare, electricity and sanitation. This group has on several occasions publicly voiced their support for PT REKI, for instance as aired nationally on January 21st and 24th, 2013, on national television TVRI. Moreover, through a memorandum of understanding we have helped to provide short term economic development through tree nurseries and NTFPs. A key focus for the management team will be to grow these initiatives into long term, sustainable, economic opportunities for the Bathin Sembilan.

    We have to date always had good relations with the Simpang Macan Luar communities and have always provided support when we could. As outlined above, PT REKI has provided free school, sanitation, healthcare and job opportunities to the Bathin Sembilan, including those in Simpang Macan Luar group which consists of only one extended family who came to the Harapan Rainforest from an area called Panerokan around a decade ago. We have yet to see any evidence that these NGOs have provided anything for the Bathin Sembilan.

    Harapan management’s statement that it is “willing to fix things together with the communities and the NGOs” shows its willingness to find common ground. It is regrettable that the NGOs have not shown the same interest in helping to support the long-term future for the Bathin Sembilan. Our willingness to work together remains.
    With regard to the alleged poisoning of oil palms, it appears to be automatically assumed that the Harapan management team, charged with restoring a healthy natural forest ecosystem, are involved with poisoning the palms planted by the Bathin Sembilan communities, but that has no basis in fact. If the palms that the Bathin Sembilan have planted subsequently die, then Harapan is under no obligation to compensate them for that. We are, however, willing to help communities with rubber seedlings in designated areas as this crop is legal in accordance with the law. It is not an obligation but voluntary assistance on our behalf.

    We have written to the Bathin Sembilan at Simpang Macan Luar, reiterating our wish to work together, and that letter is attached ( Our stated willingness to work together remains open, and we look forward to having further discussions with the Simpang Macan Luar group so that they can benefit from Harapan in the same way that other Bathin Sembilan groups do.

    Executive Head of the Harapan Rainforest Management Team

  5. Is there any truth to the rumour that about 7,000 ha of the Harapan Rainforest area has been excised for immigrants?

  6. John
    I am not at liberty to disclose at this point what exactly is being discussed with the Ministry of Forestry and provincial government as the discussions are still in process. We are trying to find an ameniable solution for the poor and needy and whose presence can be justified.

    However, both the Ministry and Hutan Harapan are in full agreement that illegal loggers, land speculators and newcomers/outsiders who clear the forest for personal gain should be dealt with in accordance with the law.