UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food closes Indonesia visit with end of mission statement – Situation in West Papua needs the Government’s serious attention

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Ms. Hilal Elver, has completed her visit to Indonesia. Between 9 and18 April 2018, she traveled to various provinces of the island state and met with government representatives, agencies and civil society members and activists. Prior to the visit, the ICP had submitted a joint report on the right to food in West Papua, which was compiled in cooperation with various CSOs and individual experts. On 18 April, the Special Rapporteur gave a press conference in which she shared preliminary observation and seven recommendations. Some observations particularly refer to the right to food situation in West Papua.

The full statement in English can be viewed here

The full statement in Bahasa Indonesia is available here

In the statement, the Special Rapporteur expressed her concern regarding various national policies for food production, which are overly focused on the production of rice and need to be sensitive to cultural attitudes. She named the ‘Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate’ (MIFEE) as an example for such policies. In this regard the special rapporteur elaborated that “… not all of the population wishes to make rice their main staple, the Government’s policy in the production of staples should become more mindful of the diverse needs and preferences of communities with a variety of food traditions. The availability of food has to satisfy the dietary needs as well as be sensitive to traditions and cultural values bearing on the relative acceptability of various foods.”

She also mentioned the deaths of 72 children in the Asmat Regency of Papua Province as a case of particular concern. 66 childern had died of measles and six children of malnutrition due to multiple factors including chronic food insecurity issues and a lack of access to proper health services. The Special Rapporteur concluded that the childrens’ deaths were preventable and expressed her deepest condolences to those parents who lost children in the epidemic outbreak. She recommended to the Government of Indonesia to “... take urgent actions to reduce malnutrition. It should also eradicate root causes for hunger and malnutrition such as poverty, unemployment and lack of social welfare services.”   

She added, “The Indonesian Government has an obligation, which it recognizes to guarantee the right to food to all of its population in Indonesia regardless of their origin, ethnicity, religion, gender or age. The challenge is to implement this fundamental obligation by adopting effective policies. I understand that the Government, especially the President, has made the improvement of the livelihood of the people in Papua a high priority that focuses on ensuring food security and addressing malnutrition issues. I particularly welcome the Government’s willingness to cooperate with the UN human rights system on the challenge presented by the situation in Papua. […] Malnutrition does not only depend on food consumption but also is dependent on good health services, social welfare and poverty reduction programs, clean drinking water and sanitation.  In this regard, the Government should take a holistic approach in the realization of the right to food, especially in response to emergency conditions of which Papua is the outstanding current example.”

The special rapporteur also spoke about a number of challenges which continue to interfere with the realization of the right to food. She named large scale land acquisitions as one of the most critical threats, explaining that such cases are often acccompanied by forceful evictions and criminal charges against community members. “It is said that more than 230 tribal leaders and activists are currently on trial over land issues and six tribes face near extinction as a result of land deprivations. I am gravely concerned about this criminalization of farmers, community members and activists over contested land issues. The Government should do more to avoid the land issue further escalating and ensure that these activities by farmers attempting to retain or reclaim their land should not be criminalized when their actions are in reasonable pursuit of their rights, “ the Special Rapporteur said.

Numerous threats to food security in many provinces of Indonesia including the provinces Papua and Papua Barat are related to business activities, especially businesses relating to palm oil, mining and other plantations. They have considerable impact on the right to food due to deforestation, soil degradation, conflicts as well as the use of toxic fertilizers have an influence on the right to food. The Special Rapporteur assessed that mining activities pose similar threats: “Its impact on the environment such as pollution of land and water has resulted in reduced production of food and income for local communities who depend on the environment for their livelihood. There have been numerous conflicts over mining concession - some resolved but many still on-going. Mining and other big infrastructure projects needs environmental impact assessment (EIA) in order to get permit. In this regard, it is necessary to conduct an EIA that is more transparent and participatory to prevent problems rising later on. Affected population should have access to remedies when their rights are violated by businesses and those who perpetrated violation should be held accountable.”

In addition, climate change and extreme weather conditions were mentioned by the Special Rapporteur. She concluded that “extreme weather events induced by climate change have affected the country claiming lives of people and damaging livelihoods including food production. For instance, the prolonged Niño drought in 2015 and 2016, disrupted farming, increased diseases and reduced crop production. Climate change could have more devastating effects on human rights especially the right to food if proper measures are not taken including mitigation and adaptation.Having said that these policies should be carefully considered not to violate peoples’ livelihood.“ The the central highlands of West Papua are among the areas, where the challenges described by the Sepcial Rapporteur are of growing concern.

The full statement in English can be viewed here

The full statement in Bahasa Indonesia is available here