Indonesian rights commission tells Japan to review power project

Kyodo

An Indonesian state-sanctioned but independent human rights commission has told Japan to carefully review a controversial $4 billion thermal power plant project funded by a joint consortium because human rights violations in the land acquisition process have been uncovered.

“We asked Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and (the Japanese) parliament to seriously review Japan’s involvement in this project,” Dianto Bachriadi, commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission, said in a recent interview, revealing that official letters were sent to both on Dec. 21.

“We didn’t say that we reject the project. We didn’t say that we didn’t agree with Japan’s investment, but (we want to say) please, respect human rights when investing in Indonesia,” he said.

The 2,000-megawatt coal-fired power plant, meant to supply electricity to 13 million people in Central Java Province, was promoted by PT Bhimasena Power Indonesia, a consortium involving Japan’s Electric Power Development Co. (J-Power), Itochu Corp. and Indonesia’s coal mining company Adaro Energy.

Construction of the power plant, one of the biggest of its kind in Southeast Asia, was initially slated to start in 2012, with commercial operations expected to commence by 2016.

But land acquisition for the project has been delayed amid on-again, off-again negotiations with residents dominated by concerns over its environmental impact.

On June 30 last year, the Central Java provincial government issued a decree allowing the state electricity company PLN to seize land from the residents even as villagers owning a total of 12.51 hectares of land were refusing to sell.

The project itself requires 226 hectares of land straddling three sub-districts in Batang Regency in Central Java.

Two months later, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo kicked off the construction of the project amid objections from some villagers there whose land was forcibly taken by the government to build the plant.

According to Dianto, the letters were sent to Abe and the Diet following a visit by representatives of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation to the commission on Dec. 14 to seek clarification and more information about the commission’s perspective on the project.

From the meeting with JBIC, Dianto wrote in the letter to Abe, a copy of which was obtained by Kyodo News, “I have a confirmative information that the Japanese government and the JBIC will assess a plan of the Japanese government’s full involvement in this project through JBIC.”

In the letter, Dianto, who deals with human rights monitoring and investigation, told Abe that various human rights violations and abuses had taken place during the land acquisition process starting in 2013, “including intimidations and physical and mental threats” to local people whose livelihoods depend on the area where construction is ongoing.

Heavy machines driven by military soldiers hired by the government and the consortium, according to Dianto, made canals surrounding the properties of local people who were refusing to sell.

“It has made them isolated. People from outside can’t go in and the residents can’t bring their products out,” he said.

Dianto said that since the beginning, the commission has suggested the government and consortium prepare an appropriate and transparent “participatory social security plan” to ensure the rights of the residents will be respected, their futures will be better and the impact of the project on their lives will be minimum.

The commission, he added, has also recommended the project site be moved to a less-populated and less-conflicted area.

The recommendation and suggestion, however, fell on deaf ears.

Greenpeace Indonesia said Ujungnegoro and four other villages in Batang Regency — Karanggeneng, Roban, Wonokerso and Ponowareng — will be affected by the project, threatening the livelihoods of more than 15,000 small-scale fishermen, farmers and their families.

The consortium claims the power plant will be built on land that is unproductive from an agricultural point of view.

Greenpeace also said the power plant will also pump 10.8 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere a year, as well as pollutants including neurotoxins such as mercury that will have deadly consequences for the environment and the health of Indonesians.

Supporting the consortium, however, the government says the power station will feature high-generation efficiency using an “ultra-supercritical” coal-processing system that will have a low impact on the environment.

“I do believe that the government of Japan will put justice, prosperity, respect and protection of human rights at the highest place of living standard and in an international cooperation,” Dianto told Abe in the letter.