The Forest Scribe

Minutes of Negotiations Key in Land Conflict Resolution

land conflicts

The problems of land conflicts and related social conflicts are complex in nature and requires a systematic and detailed settlement procedure but of key importance is that the results of negotiations at each phase must be meticulously recorded and agreed by all sides concerned, experts said.

In a number of agrarian conflicts, a settlement is often scuttled because of disagreement on what had already been previously agreed between them. In other cases, problems also arise when representatives involved in the negotiation are not recognized by others, or when decisions or agreements are unilaterally forced upon others.

“One of the important prerequisites in every ongoing negotiations is that at the end of a ny series of negotiations to settle a land conflict, the mediator/negotiator/facilitator has to produce a minutes of the meeting that carries all temporary agreements and everyone present in that negotiation process must put their signature to the agreement,” said Rakhmat Hidayat, Manager for Social Forestry and Conflict Transformation with World Resource International (WRI) Indonesia.

A minute of meeting at each steps of the negotiations, signed by those involved, would prevent any of the party in the dispute from repudiating past agreements. Any agreement would also be transparent.

The minutes should contain whatever had been discussed and agreed in a meeting as well as their agreement on what the next step would be.

Dewi Sartika, Secretary General of the Consortium for Agrarian Renewal (KPA) pointed out that in a number of conflict resolution processes, results that had already been agreed by all sides is then not recognized by one of the sides involved.

“There are a lot of mediation results, but they are often later denied,” Sartika said, adding that often there was also the case when a third party “return to zero” agreements that had already been reached.

For Soelthon Gussetya Nanggara, Executive Director of Forest Watch Indonesia, the procedure to be chosen in the conflict resolution process must be jointly agreed by those sides in the conflict and added that this procedure could be different between one conflict and another.

“So, those sides, should together develop and agreed on what stages they need to go through in the framework of a conflict resolution and this agreement should have the legal power to force all sides to comply to the said procedure,” Nanggara said.

Hidayat also highlighted the need for transparency in the negotiation, saying that along with openness, transparency in the negotiation process would also be able to prevent coercion by one of sides involved in the talks.

“As an important effort in preventing pressure or coercion in a peace negotiation, the mediation process or the handling of the conflict should be transparent and open,” Hidayat said.

Nanggara stressed that the principle of openness could also become a means to control and to motivate compliance to the procedure, “because other sides not involved in the conflict can also take part in safeguarding” the negotiation.

Hidayat said that concerning any third party which wanted to take part in mediating or observing the peace process must also be agreed by those sides in the conflict.

He said that any third party should be neutral and not be related to any of the sides in the conflict, while Nanggara stressed that the third party should have the power to get those sides in the conflict to abide by the agreement they had reached.

Hidayat said that in many cases, those sides in the conflict rejected the involvement of the armed forces, the national police or the local administration as the third party, mostly because they were deemed not to have the adequate capacity, ability or knowledge to facilitate the negotiation process.

Sartika also agreed, saying further that “The police and the armed forces should not be involved anymore in agrarian conflicts between communities, farmers and companies. The apparatus has to have a neutral position and not become guardians of companies. They should instead be on the side of farmers.”

In one case of peace negotiations in Jambi province, for example, the local community refused to acknowledge agreements that according to the company involved in the conflict, had already been agreed by all sides during a meeting initiated by the local police.

In the said case, the Jambi chapter of Friends of the Earth Indonesia (WALHI) and a subsidiary of Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) Sinar Mas differed on whether a social conflict between the company and the local community had been settled.

Also read: Walhi, Company, at Odds Over Jambi Conflict Status.

PT Wirakarya Sakti (WKS), the APP Sinar Mas subsidiary, stood by the opinion that both sides in the conflict had reached an agreement during a meeting held at the Tebo district police office on April 15, 2020 while the WALHI chapter remained adamant that the company had misunderstood the results of the meeting at that police station.

The allegation was made despite the existence of a document contained points jointly agreed at the meeting held at the police station and duly signed by all present, including representatives of the local community. 

Abdoel, from WALHI Jambi, however said that participants had felt intimidated by the presence of the police and also did not feel being helped nor their voice represented by them. As a result, community representatives did not sign any agreement at the meeting held at the police station, he said.

“We did not sign the agreement at the police station because it was located in a place that was not neutral and we also felt that we were being intimidated by the police. We chose to be silent, and then we walked out, “Abdoel said.

The company said in a press release later that the mediation process had reached three points of agreement, including that the parties in the conflict had accepted the results of the mediation and that the problem between them had been settled.

The presence of a third party in a process of conflict resolution, according to a Standard Operational Procedure (SOP) prepared by the Forest Trust (FTF) for the handling of land conflicts in the development and operation of palm oil plantation and mills, was permitted.

This third party — an individual or an organization, governmental or non-governmental –should be one that is trusted by those sides involved in the conflict, the FTF SOP said.

It remains unclear in the Jambi case what position of the Jambi Chapter of WALHI held in the conflict and whether they represented one of the parties in the conflict or stood as a third party.

The said case also underlined the importance for the determination of the representation system in a negotiation process.

“In determining the representation system, groups can designate representative to a forum with a detail of representation/mandate such as the time of assignment, the communication protocol so as to prevent a monopolistic practice in the negotiation. This agreement should be recognized by all members of the said group and be contained in a document signed by them,” Hidayat said.

The third side, he said, must also be agreed on by all sides in the conflict.

In practice, each side would submit proposals to be discussed and agreed on. Before the proposals are made, they would first discuss a number of basic criteria such as that the third side should not come from or have ties to any side in the conflict, has experience in facilitating negotiation processes; has the capability and knowledge about the problem faced and others.

Martamis, a resident of Lubuk Mandarsyah village in Jambi who attended the meeting at the Tebo Police Station said that the police were not suited to be a third party in a conflict resolution process. He said that in any mediation process, the mediator or third party in the process must be appointed and agreed by both parties,  and the police would certainly not be approved by the community.

Also read: Village Facilitator, an Important Cog in Slash and Burn Eradication.

“We are not so happy with this because there was already an agreement that if a mediation is to be carried out, the mediator in this mediation process must be appointed and agreed by both parties,” Martamis said.

Sartika said that in the Jambi case, the conflict was basically caused by a policy of the government.

“We cannot see it as a case of farmers against WKS, but we see this rather that there has been a decision made by a public official and issued by the Minister of Environment and Forestry which gives the permit for PT WKS to control a land which notabene, already had people on it,” Sartika said.

“So that if this want to be solved through a mediation process, it comes back to the agreement and transparency,” she added.

For Hidayat, there was also one matter that needed to be jointly pushed by all sides in order to help the resolution of conflicts. He referred to the establishment of a conflict handling institution, at site level up to the central government level.

“This conflict handling institution can be the frontline unit in reporting on conflicts, updated at every phase, not only report on the existence of the conflict, but also how far the conflict had been handled, what the conflict assessment process is and up to the determination of the conflict resolution effort to take,” he said.

**With contribution from Didiet Nugraha

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