Indonesian Human Rights Commission finds coal mining pit deaths were human rights abuses

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Nuraini, 41, holds up a photo of her 13 year-old son, Ardi, who drowned in an abandoned coal mining pit in East Kalimantan that was left unfenced and unguarded. Since Ardi’s fatal accident in early 2015, Nuraini has been urging the coal mining operator face justice.

The National Human Rights Commission of Indonesia (Komnasham) recently concluded its inquiry into the 27 deaths that have occurred in former coal mining sites in East Kalimantan, declaring all cases to be a violation of human rights.

Since 2011, 27 fatal accidents have occurred on abandoned mining sites. Most of the victims are children drowning in water-filled, unused, unfenced mining pits, often located in close proximity to residential areas. These are idle pits that, by law, are supposed to be reclaimed and rehabilitated, but instead have been abandoned by their former operators when the international coal price slumped in 2014.

According to the Indonesian Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM) there are an estimated 500 abandoned mining pits across East Kalimantan.

In its report, the Commission noted a breach to the right to life, right to a good and healthy environment, right to justice and children’s rights in the circumstances surrounding the death and in the treatment of the cases.

These violations, according to the official report, committed by coal mining companies, are in direct contravention to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, of which Indonesia is a signatory.

However, the report also revealed that there were indications of negligence and omission of act by local authorities, including the police and local government entities.

The launch of the report included a detailed description by the Commission and harrowing testimonies of the victim’s parents, describing neglect, mistreatment and injustice they suffered in the aftermath of their children’s deaths.

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Abandoned mine pit in East Kalimantan. Photo: JATAM.

The testimonies confirmed some of the Commission’s findings, including the failure of coal mining companies to adhere to the mandated distance between mining pits to residential areas. The commission’s investigation also found the companies failed to secure the mining pits with appropriate security fences and warning signs, which has led to a violation of the right to a good and healthy environment.

Similarly, the testimonies confirmed the absence of proper police investigation and neglect by local authorities to deliver justice, thereby violating the right to justice.

Concluding her presentation, Human Rights Commissioner Siti Noor Laila calls for strong action by all parties, particularly the East Kalimantan Provincial Government, the Chief of Police of East Kalimantan, the local mayor and district chiefs, Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources and the Ministry of Environment and Forestry as well as companies in question. The report provided specific recommendations for each party to rectify, remedy and prevent future violations from taking place.

The commission’s presentation was attended by representatives from the President’s Office, East Kalimantan Provincial Government, Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, Ministry of Environment and Forestry. Each party provided a response to the findings of the inquiry.

However, Merah Johansyah, the head of JATAM noted the responses were less than satisfactory as they did not constitute a commitment to act upon the Commission’s recommendations.

For more information, please find the report (in English) here.