in Indonesia, Paraguay, Tanzania

How indigenous peoples are using the law to defend their territories

Communities are using national law, regional law and international law to fight against the takeover of their lands. This new video by LifeMosaic looks at how communities are using the law in three countries; Indonesia, Tanzania and Paraguay.

The video, “Using the Law”, is another video in LifeMosaic’s series “Territories of Life“. It investigates the risks and advantages of going to court.


In March 2012, AMAN (The Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago) and two indigenous communities, Kuntu in Sumatra, and Cisitu in Java, filed a case with Indonesia’s Constitutional Court. They hoped to amend Indonesia’s 1999 Forestry Law, which declared that customary forests and much of indigenous peoples’ territory were state forest land.

In May 2013, the Constitutional Court ruled that indigenous peoples’ customary forests are not state forests.

Abdon Nababan of AMAN explains the importance of the ruling and what should happen next:

“Of course, the struggle is still long after the Constitutional Court’s ruling. The ruling is not enough but must be strengthened by other legal instruments. Above all we need to accelerate the adoption of the law and the recognition and the protection of indigenous peoples.”

While the Constitutional Court ruling was an important step for the recognition of indigenous rights in Indonesia, a recent article in the Jakarta Post notes that “not a single customary forest had been declared by the government to be the property of the indigenous community”, more than two years after the ruling.


The Maasai indigenous people went to the National Court to question the legality of the loss of their lands to National Parks. Samwel Nangiria, a Maasai, explains why they went to court;

“We were trying to challenge why is that the Maasai are evicted in their villages? Is this consitutional? We were trying to challenge why that the companies are heavily supported by the military in Tanzania, especially when it comes to the indigenous peoples’ territories? We were challenging the mass violation of human rights. People being shot. People apprehended. Livelihoods being destroyed. And we wanted the clarity of the court, whether this is constitutional.”

The Maasai found there were limitations in taking the case to court. It was expensive in terms of money and time. Companies can influence the running of the courts. The case was launched in 2010. It has not yet been concluded.


The Sawhoyamaxa community recently won a case to retain their ancestral land. Leonardo Gonzalez, from the Enxet community in Paraguay says,

“The cattle rancher took control of our lands and deforested 3,000 hectares of our forests. We didn’t have the freedom to keep our culture going. We went to the Interamerican Court of Human Rights and the court recognised our rights as an indigenous people.

But it was eight years before the ruling was enforced. Only after a series of protests, road blockades, and demonstrations in front of Congress was the claim recognised.


LifeMosaic’s website includes a resources page, with links to the following reports related to this video:


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