Experts raised warnings about Indonesia’s ‘omnibus’ legal package, which was hastily designed to promote investment and job creation through more than 1,000 sweeping amendments to almost 80 laws. When the first draft bill was revealed on 15 February 2020, however, its content was even more disturbing than imagined. As part of ongoing free trade discussions, NGOs are encouraging the EU to request assurances that Indonesia will maintain and increase commitments on human rights and social and environmental protections, rather than roll them back.
The proposed bill represents an assault on workers’ rights on many levels, while giving greater powers to the government and hindering local authorities’ capacity to challenge government decisions. The bill also proposes dismantling environmental safeguards, and takes aim at the land tenure and participatory rights of Indigenous and forest peoples. The following are of particular concern.
Environmental Impact Assessment: Proposed amendments to Article 23 of Law 32/2009 (environmental protection and management) relax requirements for environmental impact assessments (Amdal). Brushing away previous criteria, the bill now proposes Amdal only for projects designated as high risk. Even here, high-risk projects can obtain a business permit before carrying out the assessment.
Amdal assessment committees, which presently include environmental and technical experts as well as environmental organisations and public representatives, are revoked in the draft bill and people living near activities risky enough to require an Amdal will no longer be able to appeal (amending Article 26, Law 32/2009). Finally, criminal charges for business persons who infringe environmental rules are apparently to be scrapped.
At the outset of 2020, floods and mudslides killed more than 60 Indonesians and swept away homes, displacing more than 173,000; even the president attributed this in part to environmental and ecosystem damage. In this context, many are concerned that revoking environmental and administrative safeguards is disturbingly dangerous.
Human rights: There are also concerns about the threat the bill poses for Indigenous Peoples and forest communities. Perhaps because investors have expressed difficulty in accessing land, the Omnibus bill proposes streamlining the designation of the forest estate – currently inaccessible – by excluding Indigenous Peoples and forest communities from the process, a move with foreseeable human costs.
It appears that few human or biodiversity considerations will figure in forest designations, in fact: forest mapping will be done electronically using satellite imagery, raising the question of who has access to such digital tools. Agri-business and mining interests will be further assisted by the binning of the current requirement for regions to keep 30 per cent of their territory as forest area.
While such ‘reforms’ are not yet set in stone, the legislative agenda is extremely rushed. The EU cannot remain on the side-lines; it must use what trade leverage it has to insist on safeguards for workers, Indigenous Peoples and the environment. To encourage trade while sacrificing these – in Indonesia, in Brazil (FW 252), anywhere – would undermine the rule of law and make the EU an accessory to the destruction that follows.