In Japan, Indonesian Villagers File Official Complaints on Batang Coal Plant


By Hozue Hatae, Friends of the Earth Japan

At the end of July, three villagers affected by the proposed Batang coal-fired power plant in Central Java, Indonesia, did something unprecedented. They travelled all the way to Tokyo to personally deliver an official objection to the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), the public financial institution considering funding the project.

This is the first time that affected communities have personally submitted an objection under JBIC’s environmental guidelines and only the second time ever that such an objection has been lodged. Therefore it represents an important test case: will JBIC take their concerns seriously and investigate the alleged violations, or will they ignore the villager concerns and proceed with the loan?

Three Batang community leaders hand over their official complaint to JBIC

Three Batang community leaders hand over their official complaint to JBIC

The three villagers have been part of a four-year long campaign to save their rice fields and fisheries from the 2000 MW coal plant, which would be one of the largest in Southeast Asia. Due to their opposition, the project has been delayed for several years, with 71 landowners refusing to sell their land to the project. For their opposition, farmers have been subjected to violence, harassment and intimidation, as well as imprisonment on trumped up charges. Now the Indonesian government is threatening to use a new law to compulsorily acquire the remaining land for the project, even though doubts exist as to the legality of the move.

The community leaders appealed to the Japanese government to refuse support for the project. Mr. Karomat from Ujungnegoro village said; “Our farmland is the only source of our livelihood. Also, the traditional graves have been inherited from our ancestors, but will be destroyed by this project. Please do not push through the project in our land of Batang. Do the Japanese people want the Japanese government and companies to get involved in this kind of destructive project?”

The objection filed with JBIC was signed by 23 leaders of the local community organization known as Paguyuban UKPWR, which was established to defend their land and sea from the coal-fired power plant project.

The communities also filed a complaint against Japanese companies Itochu and J-Power under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The communities allege that JBIC has violated its social and environmental guidelines in proceeding with the project. Their complaints centre on the fact that the project has already made their life worse, has already violated their human rights, and will cause future violations. They demanded the cancelation of the project and urged JBIC to carefully investigate the problems and concerns through direct dialogue with the project-affected community, and the government to encourage Itochu and J-Power to take appropriate action.

“In our meeting with JBIC, on behalf of the citizens of UKPWR Society, I called on JBIC to cancel their plan to fund the construction of Batang coal power plant. This project has caused numerous violations of law and human rights, I was one of the victims of criminalization of this project, I was imprisoned seven months because I refused to sell my land,” said Mr. Cayadi, Representative of UKPWR Residents of Karanggeneng.

Three Diet members, namely Mr. Motoyuki Odachi (a member of the House of Councillors: Democratic Party), Ms. Akiko Kurabayashi (a member of the House of Councillors: Japanese Communist Party), and Mr. Yukihiro Shimadzu (a member of the House of Representatives: Japanese Communist Party), personally witnessed the three Batang community members submitting their objection papers at the building for members of the House of Councillors in the afternoon of July 29.

JBIC protest

Community leaders and Japanese activists protest outside JBIC headquarters

Said one of the other objectors, Mr. Abdul Hakim, a fisherman; “Due to the construction of other coal-fired power plants in Indonesia, a number of fishermen have lost their fishing grounds, and have fallen into hard life. We don’t want to experience the same fate. This project has already caused a large number of human rights violations. Japan should immediately withdraw from this project.”

How should we, as Japanese citizens, respond to these urgent complaints from the local community?

The Japanese government continues to heavily promote Japanese coal technology overseas, through providing billions of dollars of support for outdated dirty coal projects. As can be seen with Batang, coal plants destroy farmlands and fisheries and threaten the health of nearby communities. They are also the single largest contributor to global climate change.

Instead of exporting dirty coal technologies, the Japanese government should promote sustainable energy for local communities, rather than the dirty coal energy of the past.

Sign a petition against the Batang coal plant.

** Hozue Hatae is a campaigner with Friends of the Earth Japan.

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