Recently, the civil society in Indonesia has been facing a new problem related to the protection of human rights defenders, since the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders was ratified by the United Nations on 9 December 1998,1 namely protection of environmental human rights defenders. Indonesia is no exception. In this country, as well as throughout the world, this problem is substantially not an entirely new issue. It is difficult to trace since when the practices of violence, or human rights violations against individuals or groups fighting for environmental sustainability and justice have occurred in Indonesia, but recent history has shown various examples of the violence occurred against environmental human rights defenders. The case on the Kedung Ombo Dam construction during the New Order era is a prime example.
The problem is then not just a matter of the developing debate on the extent of the definition of a human rights defender. Radically, in the preface to the World Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, Michel Forst, UN special rapporteur on the issue of human rights defenders, in fact demystified the terminology of human rights defenders through describing the situation they are facing. According to Forst,
“The situation of human rights defenders frequently overlaps and shares commonalities with the situation of journalists, lawyers, political dissidents, women, indigenous people, youth, and other groups in society. This is both because these groups often are themselves human rights defenders and because the roles of these groups, in advocating change or the adoption of new policies, is often similarly opposed by vested interests.” (2018: 10)
In the above passage, Forst emphasizes that the human rights defender is nothing but an attempt to redefine the struggles of an individual or group for justice, which already existed, through a new framework called human rights. That is, it is important to see the emergence of new issues such as the protection of environmental human rights defenders not merely as an indication of “activism”. The emergence of this issue, as well as other human rights issues, is entirely inseparable from the complexity of the problems that lie in the background. The report “In the Shadow of State and Corporate Violences” must be seen as an attempt to unravel the complexity of the problems that lie in the background of the emerging issue of protection of environmental human rights defenders.
In some parts, the reader will probably realize that this report goes further than only “unraveling the complexity of the problems.” This report presents an extensive exposition of theoretical debates about environmental human rights defenders, which accompany the issue of protecting them. Aside from being a theoretical accountability for the choice of definition we use, we do this because we want to draw more firmly the problems that are afflicting fighters for environmental sustainability and justice within the broader human rights framework. In our opinion, such problems have lacked in-depth discussion in the discourse on environmental human rights defenders.
This report, of course, is only a small element of the various efforts made by the civil society to encourage protection of environmental human rights defenders. In the end, the work of preparing such reports will be useful as one of the road maps for more practical work in fighting for the protection of environmental human rights defenders.