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Case study

As land disputes over palm oil plantations in West Sumatra, Indonesia flare up, community leaders and human rights defenders are being subjected to increasing intimidation and criminalisation by local police allegedly spurred on by planters. Photo above: PT. Primatama Mulia Jaya destroyed Nagari Simpang Tigo Koto Baru community’s access to their ulayat lands that have been illegally included in the Company’s permit (HGU).

Commodity: Palm Oil

Country: Indonesia

Abuses: Criminalisation, intimidation, violence

Key recommendation: Businesses and states must respect the right of indigenous peoples to give or withhold their Free, Prior and Informed Consent

Extinguishing rights

In 1996, PT Primatama Mulia Jaya of the Wilmar group made an agreement with a few communities in Pasaman Barat District, West Sumatra to grow palm oil on their lands. Without the knowledge or consent of the communities the company sought out a Hak Guna Usaha (HGU) permit which permanently extinguishes all other rights in the area.

Unfortunately for the neighbouring Minangkabau community of Nagari Koto Baru the permit also covered a portion of their land, therefore terminating their rights to the territory and restricting their access to essential resources. They have been resisting the company’s occupation ever since.

Protesting their rights

Nagari Koto Baru have been protesting the palm oil plantation since 1997. Protest after protest has been organized by the community to call for the local government and the company to return their ancestral lands but to no avail.

Criminalising the leaders

Protests have led to tension in the area.

A leader of the community, Syahrul Ramadhan Tanjung Sinaro, was arrested by police and brutally beaten in December 2017 immediately after the community decided to submit a complaint against the company to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. He was detained for three months and subsequently sentenced to a year in jail for allegedly ordering members of his community to steal oil palm fruit, eventually serving 9 months. He is not the only one.

Photo above: Protesting community members were heavily guarded by the Police of Pasaman and the Company security personnel who have been known to use violence against community members.

Collusion of businesses and the state


The local mobile police force, or ‘Brimob’, have been assisting the company and worsening the situation. Despite the company’s occupation of the land being illegal under local, national and international law, collusion between the palm oil company and the police mean the community members of Kota Baru are continuously evicted and arrested for occupying their ancestral lands.


Criminalising a way of life


Private security employed by the company have also been a source of conflict.


The community of Koto Baru continue to grow corn and vegetables in the contested territory and are often met by private security or police and accused of trespassing.


One woman from the community, who has decided to remain anonymous, described the threats she had received:“They (the company) threatened to destroy our corn plants… and they then proceeded to threaten me by saying that he would kill me if I didn’t leave the field.” They said this while shooting their firearms into the air.

Photo above: The community of Nagari Simpang Tigo Koto Baru, facilitated by the National Land Agency of Pasaman, conducted a process to reaffirm its border with the neighboring nagari by building border markers which were later destroyed by PT. Primatama Mulia Jaya.

The way forward

In order to move forward the community of Koto Baru need the recognition of their rights as indigenous peoples to their lands, resources and territories both by the state and by the company. Clarity on the rights to the land are the only way forward.  

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