October 23, 2017

An open letter to Mr Clausen and Mr Conable

An Open Letter to Mr Alden Clausen, Retiring President of the World Bank, and Mr Barber Conable, President Elect, reflecting on the disastrous social and environmental record of the World Bank, and its consistent inability to advance beyond the mere rhetoric of reform.

See also You can only be judged on your record, a follow-up letter.

Published in The Ecologist Vol. 16 No. 2–3, March 1986.

Dear Mr Clausen and Mr Conable,

We are writing to you to express our grave concerns regarding the World Bank’s continued funding of the Transmigration Programme in Indonesia.

The programme, which involves the mass movement of millions of landless poor from the central Indonesian islands of Java, Madura, Bali and Lombok to the less densely populated outer islands, has been promoted as a humanitarian exercise with the primary goal of improving living standards. The promotion of regional development through the provision of the necessary manpower to the outer islands and the strengthening of national unity through increasing ethnic integration are also given as objectives of the programme.

Yet evidence continues to accumulate that even the major humanitarian rationalisations for the programme are flawed. The widespread failure of Transmigration sites and the increasing numbers of settlers engaged in ‘second round flows’ testify to this.

Tropical rainforest destruction and Transmigration

Of particular concern to us is the impact that this project is having on the forests and peoples of the outer islands. Transmigration, as it is presently being carried out, is leading to the permanent and effectively irreversible destruction of vast areas of tropical forest. Over 3.3 million hectares of tropical forest will be destroyed by Transmigration during the present Five-Year Plan. In addition, the destabilised populations from unsuccessful sites are causing further widespread environmental damage, as the settlers abandon their failed sites and lay waste the surrounding vegetation.

Moreover, as the recent Forest Review, carried out by three Indonesian Government Departments and the International Institute for Environment and Development has emphasised, even where sites are successful, serious environmental problems arise, since these areas serve to draw less fortunate settlers to them, placing an unsustainable burden on the fragile tropical forest environment.

Current rates of deforestation in Indonesia have become a cause of global concern, estimates placing the overall rate of forest loss at over one million hectares per year. Transmigration exacts a major part of this terrible toll. We would draw your attention to the conclusion of the Forest Review team, where they state that:

“Given the current objectives and operational procedures of the Transmigration Programme, the Team considers Transmigration as the single sectoral activity with the greatest potential to advance forest destruction-often to no constructive result. Whether a ‘success’ or ‘failure’ by present standards, Transmigration, as currently managed can only have negative implications for forest resources.”

Such a conclusion makes clear that the Transmigration Programme is entirely incompatible with the World Bank’s own environmental policy guidelines, where the Bank states that it:

9a. Endeavours to ensure that each project affecting renewable natural resources (e.g. as sink for residue or as a resource for raw material) does not exceed the regenerative capacities of the environment

9b. Will not finance projects that cause severe or irreversible environmental deterioration, including species extinctions without mitigatory measures acceptable to the Bank

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Transmigratlon and Tribal Peoples

Transmigration takes as its starting point the assumption that the outer islands are “underpopulated” and “underdeveloped”. Yet, in fact, these areas are the traditional homelands of a large number of viable and vigorous societies which have developed sophisticated systems of resource use, subtly adapted to their prevailing environmental circumstances. Transmigration, by alienating these peoples from their traditional lands and forcing them to participate in development projects, many of which are environmentally and economically inappropriate, is destroying the very basis of their ways of life.

As you will be aware, Indonesian law, while ostensibly recognising traditional (adat) land rights, completely subordinates these rights to State interests. Special legislation relating to Transmigration further weakens these rights. For example, Clause 17 of the Basic Forestry Act, Clarification Act No 2823 of 1967, states:

“The rights of traditional law communities may not be allowed to stand in the way of the establishment of Transmigration sites.”

The effect of these and other laws is to deny the land rights of tribal peoples practising non-sedentary forms of land use. Compensation payable to these people is limited to payment for the destruction of their standing crops and buildings but not for loss of their hunting, gathering and fishing territories.

Instead of respecting the rights of tribal peoples to their traditional lands and resources, government policy obliges these peoples to abandon their traditional ways of life, leaving them with no alternative but to integrate into Transmigration settlements where they find themselves outnumbered by outsiders and despised for their ‘primitive’ customs. In many provinces, Transmigration is leading tribal peoples to become a minority on their own lands.

The dispossession that is an inevitable part of Transmigration is causing an escalation in interethnic tensions. Particularly in West Papua (Irian Jaya), tribals, who have resisted the takeover of their lands, have been accused of being members of proscribed secessionist movements and have been subjected to security operations by the Indonesian armed forces.

These actions are leading to a bloody escalation of the conflict between tribal peoples and the military. In West Papua, which, with a total population of 1.2 million, has been designated to receive about 685,000 settlers in the next five years, there have been widespread reports of human rights abuse associated with the programme.

One of the most worrying and evident expressions of the problems Transmigration is causing is the continuing exodus of tribal people from West Papua into neighbouring Papua New Guinea. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, there are presently 10,500 refugees in camps all along the border, including about 500 new arrivals in the last few months.

Successive reports from those in direct communication with the refugees have noted that land alienation, resulting primarily from the Transmigration programme, has been a major cause for their flight. Refugees report the bombing of villages, indiscriminate shooting, imprisonment, torture, rape, the burning of settlements and the killing and stealing of livestock.

Taken together, these facts make it abundantly clear that Transmigration as it is being implemented is directly contravening the terms of the World Bank’s guidelines for the development of tribal areas.

Moreover, it is clear that these violations of human rights are not just the result of the poor planning and implementation at the local level but are inherent in the legislation and policy of the programme. The ethnocidal intent of Transmigration was made abundantly clear at the special seminar on Transmigration hosted by the Minister of Transmigration, Martono, on March 20 1985, where he stated:

“On 28 October 1928, a youth congress was held concluding that we are one nation, the Indonesian nation; we have one native country, Indonesia; one language, the Indonesian language. By way of Transmigration, we will try to realise what has been pledged, to integrate all the ethnic groups into one nation, the Indonesian nation . . . The different ethnic groups will in the long run disappear because of integration. . . and there will be one kind of man . . .”

The Bank, in its policy guidelines, has explicitly rejected such integrationist policies towards tribal peoples, instead insisting on an “intermediate policy” which “allows the retention of a large measure of tribal autonomy and cultural choice”. This has nowhere been provided for in the Transmigration Programme.

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Transmigration and “National Security”

The Indonesian Government has stated that Transmigration is considered of great importance as an exercise in promoting “national security”. As General Murdani, Commander-in-Chief of the Indonesian Armed Forces, made clear in March 1985, Transmigration is considered to be:

“The only programme in the economic field that must quite categorically be tied in with defence and security considerations . . . The preparation of sites and the removal of obstacles to land availability need to be given special focus because the choice of locations is related to the concept of territorial management.”

In West Papua, these concerns are manifested in the Government’s plans to settle a “cordon sanitaire” of militarised (saptamarga) settlements along the border. In November 1985, the Minister of Transmigration, Martono, announced that Transmigration was to be given priority in border areas.

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In view of the considerable and steadily growing evidence that widespread environmental and human rights abuses are not only associated with, but actually integral to, the present manner of the Transmigration Programme’s Implementation, we strongly urge that the Bank carefully reviews Its present policy of supporting the project.

While this is being carried out, we also strongly urge that the Bank takes immediate steps to halt funding the programme. Funding for Transmigration should not be renewed until there are guarantees that it is to be carried out in line with the Bank’s guidelines for the development of tropical forest regions and areas inhabited by tribal peoples and that it will not lead to the destruction of the environment, the alienation of tribal peoples from their lands and the abuse of their right to self-determination.

We look forward to learning how you plan to deal with this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Robin Hanbury-Tenison. President, Survival International.

Lord Avebury. Honorary President, Tapol.

Edward Goldsmith. Editor, The Ecologist.

Nicholas Hildyard. Fellow, Wadebridge Ecological Centre.

Peter Bunyard. Fellow, Wadebridge Ecological Centre.

Des Wilson. Campaigns Director, Friends of the Earth (International).

Jonathan Porritt. Director, Friends of the Earth (UK).

Peter Davies. Director, Anti-Slavery Society.

Dr. Bernard Juillerat. Researcher, Centre National de Recherche Scientifique.

Ola Persson. Chairman, Fourth World Association of Sweden.

Bruce Rich. Senior Attorney, Environmental Defense Fund.

David Wirth. Senior Project Attorney, Natural Resource Defense Council.

J. Karubul. Secretary, West Papuan Observer.

Ben Whittaker. Director, Minority Rights Group.

Patricia Adams. Director, Third World Research; Energy Probe.

AniAgarwal l. Director, Centre for Science and Environment; Chairman, Environment Liaison Centre.

Brent Blackwelder. President, Environmental Policy Institute.

Janet Barber. Director of Conservation, World Wildlife Fund (UK).

The Reverend Peter Van Lelyveld. General Secretary, Dutch Inter-Church Aid.

Jan Lucas Van Hoorn. International Secretary, Politieke Partil Democraten 66 (Netherlands).

Tom Burke. Chairman, Green Alliance.

Jacques de Kort. President, Work Group for Indigenous Peoples.

Jason Clay. Director of Research, Cultural Survival.

Tilman Zuich. Chairman of the Board, Gesellschaft fur Bedrohte Volker.

Andrew Gray. Co-Director, International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs.

Jan Muter. Komitee Indonesie (Netherlands).

Barbara J Bramble. Director, International Programmes, National Wildlife Federation, USA.

Malcolm Harper. Director, United Nations Association, UK.

John Phua. Bakun Dam Committee; Environmental Protection Society of Malaysia; The Malaysian Sociological Research Institute, Kuala Lumpur.

Campbell Plowden. President, Tropical Ecosystem Research and Rescue Alliance (TERRA).

S. M. Mohd Idris. President, Sahabat Alam, Malaysia.

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