Kania Mezariani G, The Jakarta Post, 26 Agustus 2015
The Chinese company Sinohydro recently responded to an invitation to clarify its position regarding the Jatigede Dam in West Java by an NGO, the Business and Human Rights Resource Center, on its website.
The response leaves one wondering whether all businesses would say the same thing every time they faced the implications of their operations. Yes, it is not their responsibility to protect human rights, it is the state’s duty.
But every stakeholder in the dam project should be responsible for either protecting and respecting people’s human rights or providing access to remedy for those people affected.
The state and businesses are collectively responsible for their actions regarding their involvement in development activities that they engage in for the sake of “social welfare”.
The development of the dam started in 1960s and until now, it has not been completed, largely due to protests about relocations. Land acquisition, which started in the 1980s, was not clear, resulting in continuing conflicts until last September. In January President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo signed Presidential Decree No. 1/2015 about the handling of the dam’s social impact.
However, the decree does not answer popular aspirations, especially regarding the safeguarding of future local infrastructure, economic development or sources of livelihood.
According to the report of the People’s Alliance to Reject the Jatigede Dam the project will affect 1,389 acres of forest area, threatening ecosystems and wildlife habitats, and will also affect more than 900,000 trees. Actually the project underwent an environmental impact evaluation in the feasibility study, planning and design stages and received approval from the West Java provincial government in January 2008.
Following the evaluation the project included preventive and control measures including dust control, waste treatment, vibration and noise controls, water and soil preservation, vegetation restoration and water source protection.
According to the alliance, the project also affects 23 villages, of which six villages must be submerged. A total of 13,092 people are affected, including 12,110 farmers who may lose their sources of livelihood. Within the six villages, there are 7,410 households but only 1,988 households are set to receive compensation.
But relocation has not been transparant, there was no dialogue with the affected communities, resulting in unfair measurements, poorly constructed houses built as compensation, no compensation for cultivation land; and people were allegedly forced to sign blank sheets of paper that were later transformed into agreements to give away their land rights. Other than that, some protesters were tortured during the New Order era. These issues have not been resolved over the years, yet the dam is already built.
Recent news states that the submerging of the villages has been postponed as residents are still fighting for their compensation. The development of the dam was based on a multi-stakeholder agreement, which includes the Public Works and Public Housing Ministry, Sinohydro and the Consortium of Indonesian Contractors (CIC), which comprises four state-owned enterprises: Wika, Waskita, HK and PP. These stakeholders are responsible for the project and have different roles. Sinohydro asserted that it was responsible for 66.82 percent of the total contract, and the CIC is responsible for 33.18 percent of the total contract.
Sinohydro is only obligated to provide engineering and construction. Compensation and relocation are entirely the responsibility of the project owner, the Public Works and Public Housing Ministry, the company said in its response. This specific statement bothered me.
First, if their main obligation is construction, why did they proceed when it was clear that there were still problems regarding compensation and relocations? “Our company has no way of knowing about how these matters are being handled and has no right to voice an opinion thereon,” Sinohydro states.
Second, “Our company takes protection of the project environment very seriously”. How about the protection of the directly impacted people? Third, “The content published by the People’s Alliance to Reject the Jatigede Dam has no connection to our company.” Is the company not involved in the development of Jatigede Dam? Doesn’t the company have more than half of the total contract?
Yes, the government also failed to protect people’s human rights from third parties, including private sector bodies. It was the government that approved the dam construction. It was the government that conducted the unclear compensation and relocation. But wasn’t it the company that chose to execute the plan despite unresolved conflicts? Are all of the human rights impacts not connected to the company?
According to the new framework of business and human rights, known as the “protect, respect, remedy framework,” companies have the responsibility to respect human rights. This means that they should avoid infringing on the human rights of others and should address adverse human rights impacts with which they are involved. Companies should have a human rights policy with related due dilligence and processes to enable the remedy of adverse human rights impacts they cause or contribute to; thus companies are clearly also responsible for human rights impacts.
Regarding the Jatigede dam, there are several options for a solution.
First, the government can stop the project entirely, considering the adverse human rights impacts that will result if the reservoir is filled.
Second, since the dam is already constructed, the government must fulfill the directly impacted people’s demands regarding compensation.
Third, both the government and the company must ensure the remediation of the directly impacted people, to enable them to achieve fairness.
As there will be 49 dams to be developed within the next five years there should be a clear process that can analyze the potential impact of each project, by conducting human rights due dilligence. The government is responsible for protecting human rights, the companies are responsible for respecting human rights, and both are responsible to provide access to remedies.
The writer is assistant program officer on business and human rights at the Institute of Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) in Jakarta.