Another Year of Living Dangerously: Environmental Human Rights Defenders in 2019

Press Release

Another Year of Living Dangerously: Environmental Human Rights Defenders in 2019

The sustainability and sovereignty of environmental and human rights issues were hardly achieved by civil society back in 2019. It was the hardest year because amid the election process to bring brand new leaders, the people of Indonesia were watching the Government systematically roll out the “red carpets” for many investors. The commitment to internalize the environmental and human rights principles becomes utterly nonsense. Moreover, while
trying to fulfil the agenda of neo-developmental—according to Warburton (2016)—which was threatened by the under-target realization, the Indonesian Government shamelessly signed the revision of the Corruption Eradication Commission Bill. This bill becomes the legitimate tool to hand in the strategic positions for military elites. It gets worse with the new plan to serve additional facilities for Investors through the Omnibus Law packages.

The given situations mark 2019 as the year full of dangers for the Environmental Human Rights Defenders who are categorized, by United Nations Special Reporter, as one of the most exposed groups. It is all because Environmental Human Rights Defenders stand as the front guards of the movement to protect the environment and its people from systematic disfigurement by the state. The Report “Another Year of Living Dangerously,” which was
launched by ELSAM as the continuation of the 2018 report, reveals the dangerous situation faced by the Environmental Human Rights Defenders.

In the newest report, ELSAM finds 27 cases of violation towards the Environmental Human Rights Defender among 14 provinces and 24 regencies/cities during 2019. These cases include 8 (eight) types of violence: murder, arrest, detention, physical seizure, destruction, land grabbing, and intimidation. The drawbacks of these violations affected 127 individuals and 50 Environmental Human Rights Defender groups. The most violent and brutal cases
were the murder of Golfrid Siregar, the environmentalist, and the murder attempt of WALHI Nusa Tenggara Barat (NTB) Director’s family.

Through the report, the researchers have confirmed that the situation of Environmental Human Rights Defenders in 2019 was not in a better state than the previous year. We could see over the fact that women and children were the affected violation and threat of violent subjects. The violation and threat, which subjected to environmental human rights defenders, were also targeted to the Civil Society Organization (CSO) activists and academics. As ELSAM had observed in 2018, these phenomena appeared as bad signals because things were hit differently for Environmental Human Rights Defenders who did not get extensive media exposure and have solid networks. Moreover, on behalf of the total arisen cases, there was a new tendency, which was the involvement of unconventional actors. Those actors were the trade unions and indigenous peoples who supposedly were on side with Environmental Human Rights Defenders.

The researchers observed that the new emergence of unconventional actors could be the indicator of corporate involvement. In 2019, the corporation had become the most common perpetrators of human rights violations. In a more holistic view, the role of corporates in various violence cases towards Environmental Human Rights Defenders may not be as conventional as it seems.

In the discussion of the Another Year of Living Dangerously launching, Muhammad Hairul Sobri, as one of the speakers strongly argued that in the South Sumatera cases, the state trough the government seems likely to give their support for corporation business operational. The government is pro to law enforcement, but the practices are injustice. In South Sumatera, there are hundreds of corporations that are ideally responsible for their
actions. The government has to bravely revoke their business permits and drag them into the prison due to their involvement in the massive forest fires, which had proved by satellite imagery, and human rights violations in agrarian sectors. These facts did not push the government to do something meaningful because, in 2019, the state apparatuses sentenced thirty farmers as suspects for land issues, while in fact, the farmers were just defending their Land Rights.

The further tracing on how the relationship between corporations and government at the Environmental Human Rights Defender sector could be analyzed by the political-economic structure, which functioned as stakes in every corporation’s involvement in many violations cases. The predatory political oligarchy scheme, which is associated as the New Order residue, not only appears as the pre-factor of perpetual violence and threat against Environmental Human Rights Defenders, but also as one of the backgrounds for civil society to strengthen and broaden the front of struggle. Herlambang P. Wiratman agreed this view as the speaker. He stated that besides political law, the oligarchy is the problem that drives the vulnerable individuals and groups in society as the victims of various government policies implementation, including agrarian and environmental issues. Furthermore, in Herlambang’s point of view, the political oligarchy system still stands strong because the state fails to carry out the constitutional mandate and to break the immunity chains. In his research in 2019, Herlambang mentioned that the human rights defenders who work on
anti-corruption and environmental issues are the most vulnerable individuals. It is all because these two sectors directly challenge the oligarch’s interests.

Recently, amidst the economic stagnancy due to the Corona Virusdisease 2019 (Covid-19) outbreak since March 2020, the Indonesian Government faces big critical questions in the
middle of millions of work dismissal and national economic decay: which direction that the Government brings Indonesia’s economic policies after the outbreak of Covid-19?

The policy directions, specifically in the development sector, which are taken by the Indonesian Government, would likely determine the future of environmental sovereignty and justice—including the lives of Environmental Human Rights Defenders. In previous times, The House of Representatives had stated the continual of Omnibus Law on Job Creation Bill, although the Covid-19 alleviation is still going on (, 6 April 2019). Nobody knows the time of draft of Job Creation bills and others bill will be signed. We also do not know which way the government will take on post-COVID-19. Whatsoever, the given confirmation from the House of Representative on Job Creation Bill implies that post-COVID-19 outbreak and so on, the Indonesian people should be prepared to gaze at the years of perils. At all the sorts of upcoming dangers, there is no other way for Environmental Human Rights Defenders but to fight.

To catch up more facts and information, download the Reports (Bahasa Indonesia version) on


Jakarta, 23 April 2020
Lembaga Studi dan Advokasi Masyarakat (ELSAM)
Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy

For further information, please kindly reach Andi Muttaqien (Deputy Director of Advocacy), +628121996984 or Muhammad Azka Fahriza (Researcher), +6282124041688