Protests erupt over growing number of land and human rights conflicts around biofuels in Indonesia

Environment Times online, 17th February 2009

EnvTimesOn Friday, 13th February, a consortium of environmental and human rights campaigners delivered a petition with over 10,000 signatures to the Indonesian embassy in London. On the same day, German campaigners also delivered the signatures to the Indonesian embassy in Berlin. They are demanding the release of Muhammad Rusdi a community leader and village head in Jambi province, Sumatra, and redress for a community whose land has been illegally taken over by a palm oil company. A copy of the letter will be sent to the UK government. The petition has been organised by the German founded Rettet den Regenwald (Rainforest Rescue) and Watch Indonesia!

This apparently unlawful arrest is linked to a growing number of land conflicts over palm oil in Indonesia. According to WALHI (Friends of the Earth Indonesia), there are more than one thousand oil palm related land conflicts in the country and an increasing number of human rights abuses linked to such conflicts are being reported.

Marianne Klute from Watch Indonesia! states: „The Indonesian government must guarantee the human and land rights of local communities in Jambi province and elsewhere in the country, whose rights and livelihoods are threatened by oil palm companies.”

Deepak Rughani from Biofuelwatch adds: „The underlying cause for this and many other conflicts in Indonesia and many other countries is the completely unsustainable and growing demand for palm oil, particularly in Europe. Europe’s newly agreed biofuel targets and in the UK agrofuel and energy company Blue NG plans to also build a series of vegetable oil power plants in the UK will seriously worsen this situation”.

The detained village head of Karang Mendapo village in Jambi had helped his community reclaim their own land from one of South-east Asia’s largest plantation companies, Sinar Mas, last August. According to campaigners, villagers have been persecuted and intimidated since that time. Campaigners also believe that Sinar Mas has been implicated in other human rights abuses, including, last December, in the fire-bombing of another village in Sumatra.

The EU has recently agreed a 10% renewable energy target for road transport, which is considered to be a biofuel target in all but name. According to campaigners, European politicians decided that evictions and human rights abuses, no matter how serious, cannot be used as a ground for classing biofuels as ‘unsustainable’ or for countries such as the UK to refuse to support them.

In the UK, a planning application for the first power plant to burn vegetable oil was recently granted to the company Blue NG, which campaigners say intends to submit initially seven more applications, with plans for a further 36 such plants having been quoted in the media. Anti-palm oil biofuel protesters believe those plans would further increase the UK’s demand for vegetable oil and thus, directly or indirectly, for palm oil.

However, Blue NG state that their bioliquids sourcing policy has been developed in consultation with environmental NGOs, and that the „policy will continue to evolve and drive the development of transparent sustainability criteria above and beyond the existing current UK and European frameworks for sustainable biomass.“ They further state: „Our goal is to procure biomass on the basis of robust and consistent sustainability and life cycle assessment criteria with the lowest possible direct and indirect environmental impact and the highest possible environmental and socio-economic benefits.“ <>

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