Jakarta, September 25, 2023–Two weeks following violent protests by Rempang Island residents against the government’s plans to evict thousands of indigenous inhabitants, the Chief of BP Batam (Batam’s free trade zone and free port authority) declared that the island would not witness mass displacement on Thursday, September 28, 2023, as part of the Rempang Eco City construction. He added that BP Batam is fully dedicated to active engagement with the affected community, guaranteeing the protection of their rights before any relocation takes place [1].

The Minister of Investment and Head of the Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM), Bahlil Lahadalia, affirmed that the government would never relocate the inhabitants of Rempang Island to Galang Island. Instead, there would be a shift between the existing villages in Rempang. The government used the term “shift” instead of relocation for this plan [2]. However, the exact location of the “shift” is still unknown.

During a media briefing introducing a fact sheet titled “Uncovering Suspected Environmental, Land, and Conflict of Interest Violations in the Rempang National Strategic Project: Where Is Justice for the People?” Fauzi Rahman, representing the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI), stated instead of calling it a relocation, transferring, or moving the people, the government’s actions constituted a gross human rights violation.

“Referring to Law Number 26 of 2000 on Human Rights Courts, gross human rights violations span a spectrum of offenses. It spans from genocide to forced evictions. The events taking place on Rempang Island qualify as a forced eviction. The current situation there is dire, marked by widespread intimidation. We have called on the government to withdraw the police and military forces to alleviate the pervasive atmosphere of fear.”

The Agrarian Reform Consortium (KPA) representative, Linda Dewi Rahayu, emphasized that the Rempang conflict was not a sudden occurrence but rather the culmination of a long-standing dispute that erupted on September 7 and 11. Upon close examination, the agrarian conflict on Rempang Island reveals a long-standing issue that spans from the post-independence era through the New Order administration up to the present day.

“Ideally, the state should be in charge of managing agrarian resources. But ironically, the government acts in the other way. The state aligned itself with business elites to achieve agricultural resource liberalization. This essentially reduced public supervision and control over state assets. As a consequence, the Rempang community was not integrated into the development landscape. Hence, conflicts and human rights violations on Rempang Island have endured for decades,” Linda added.

She stated during President Joko Widodo’s time in office, the National Strategic Project (PSN) was legitimized in a manner that excluded public participation. This resulted in the displacement of local communities and the excessive use of state force to make the project’s completion seem nearly impossible to avoid.

“The Job Creation Law being used to seize land, notably government-unadministered land. As a result, it has become typical for national strategic programs (PSN) to cause agrarian conflict. Conflicts involving PSN in 2021 have escalated by up to 123 percent after the legalization of The Job Creation Law. There have been 73 instances of agrarian conflicts arising from PSN during the Jokowi administration (2015-2022),” said Linda.

Lack of Spatial Planning and Allegations of Officials’ Conflict of Interest in National Strategic Project Rempang

In the context of Rempang Island’s classification as a national strategic project, researcher Zakki Amali, affiliated with Trend Asia, has brought to light allegations of conflicts of business interests and ownership shares involving several government officials and their families. PT Makmur Elok Graha (MEG), the entity entrusted with the development of the Rempang Eco City project, is commonly associated with Tomy Winata, the founder of the Artha Graha Group.

Trend Asia’s inquiry failed to uncover Tomy Winata’s name within the company’s organizational framework. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that the directors and commissioners of PT MEG, as well as individuals holding shares in firms affiliated with PT MEG, maintain close ties to both professional and social pursuits affiliated with the Artha Graha Group.

Grideye Resources, a British Virgin Islands-based shell firm, has been identified as the ultimate beneficial owner of PT MEG. While holding a shell corporation is not illegal, such firms are frequently used to avoid taxes, according to Zakki.

“Rempang is set to host the Xinyi Glass Holding factory, where they will manufacture solar panels. Meanwhile, in Batam, there’s a company with suspected affiliations to officials, and they have plans to construct a solar power plant, potentially serving as a prime customer for solar panels manufactured by Xinyi Glass. It’s worth noting that Rempang Island is around 3 kilometers southeast of Batam Island.” explained Zakki.

This indicates that there is a supply and demand situation in Batam, namely PLTS companies that need solar panels and their electricity will be exported to Singapore with solar panel producers from Xinyi Glass which will be established on Rempang Island.

This points to a growing need for ‘low-carbon’ electricity as sought by the Singaporean government, primarily sourced from solar power plants in Batam. A partnership of roughly nine enterprises is actively engaged in the expanded solar power plant development strategy for Batam and its nearby territories. PT Adaro Energi Indonesia, PT Batam Sarana Surya, PT Toba Bara Energi, PT Indonesia Power, and Gurin Energy Ltd are notable players.

Satrio Manggala, a representative from the Friends of the Earth International (WALHI), also emphasized a critical concern regarding the development of Rempang Eco City: the absence of adequate space allocation within both regional and national-scale spatial planning. In accordance with the Batam City Regional Spatial Planning Policy (RTRW), as outlined in Regional Regulation Number 3 of 2021, infrastructure development is confined to artillery roads, electricity, and reservoirs. Conversely, the scope of the industrial area encompasses the growth of the fishing sector on Rempang Island and Galang Island, alongside the planning of tourist zones for Rempang, Galang, and Galang Baru.

The Riau Islands Regional Spatial Planning Policy, as outlined in Regional Regulation No. 1 of 2017, places emphasis on several key aspects. These include the protection of protected forest areas, the terrestrial natural reserve of Buru Park, the preservation of cultural and historical monuments associated with Japanese soldiers and Vietnamese refugees on Galang Island, and the preservation of the Batam City regional water conservation area.

The National Strategic Area Spatial Plan for the Batam, Bintan, and Karimun Regions includes four protected zones, according to Presidential Regulation Number 87 of 2011. Among these are coastal border protection zones on the islands of Rempang, Galang, and Galang Baru, as well as river border zones on the Rempang and Galang Rivers. These protected zones also include natural reserves, areas designated for environmental protection and cultural heritage preservation, as well as areas prone to land movement.

Meanwhile, in Presidential Regulation No. 41 of 2022, the Zoning Plan (RZ KAW) for the North Natuna-Natuna Inter-Regional Marine Area explicitly mentions a list of National Strategic Projects, but no space allocation planning for the establishment of Rempang Eco City is mentioned.

In the National Regional Spatial Plan, as governed by Government Regulation Number 13 of 2017, there is nothing specifically indicating a space allocation for the development of Rempang Eco City,” he said. “What does exist is the Rempang Island Game Reserve, which is designated as a National Protected Area.

“It’s also worth noting that Rempang Island is a small landmass, covering less than 2,000 square kilometers,” Satrio noted. “Because of its proximity to both freshwater and marine ecosystems, Rempang Island is especially vulnerable to harmful business activities.” Smaller islands, such as Rempang, lack a transitional zone between coastal and interior areas, unlike bigger islands.”

When we talk about the consequences and ongoing dangers of the conflict on Rempang Island, Linda highlighted an important fact: The people affected by this struggle didn’t just start suffering on September 7 and 11. This has been a long-standing problem with victims from years past, and sadly, there will likely be more victims in the future. Among these affected groups, women are particularly vulnerable because they often play a prominent role in agrarian disputes, like the ones happening on Rempang Island.

“They are intimately tied to the land, water, and environment of their small island,” shedding light on the deep-rooted bond between the islanders and their natural surroundings. Agriculture is the lifeblood of their existence, sustaining their traditional way of life. However, when the government relocated them, it forcibly disrupted their age-old rhythms, imposing restrictions and resorting to violence, effectively excluding them from their ancestral lands. Even in governmental dialogues with the people, the voices of women are often conspicuously absent, robbing them of representation. What warrants paramount attention is not merely economic growth but a brand of development that cherishes the rights of women, children, the elderly, and other vulnerable groups of society. “Women, children, and the elderly face the highest risk in the midst of the land grabbing conflict on Rempang Island,” he emphasized.


Fact sheet presentation here

Photo by: Liputan6.com