Are Japan and the World Bank Supporting a Coal Plant With Human Rights Violations In Indonesia?

05/06/2015 06:15 pm ET | Updated May 06, 2016

Until last week, farmers near the proposed 2,000 megawatt Batang coal fired-power plant in Central Java appeared to have done the impossible -- halted a $4 billion industrial project linked to the Indonesian government, Japan, and the World Bank.

Facing down developers from the Indonesian PT Adaro Energy company and Japanese companies J-Power and Itochu Corporation, as well as promised support from the Japanese government through the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), local residents endured harassment and arrests as the project's proponents attempted to quash dissent. However, by refusing to sell their land, they have delayed the project by three years and sent a clear signal to the world that local communities must have a voice in decisions about their land, water, economy, and heritage.

But things began to change last few weeks when the Indonesian military moved in.

Farmers tell us that the military brought an excavator and began to dig up the land, and owners were blocked from accessing their rice paddies. All of this happened immediately preceding a planned visit by Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, who has made the project a key part of his energy plan, despite over 22 protests against the Batang coal plant, some involving thousands of people.

Activists immediately sprung to action when the military arrived, organising meetings with the National Commission on Human Rights and key government ministers. Meanwhile, former Mexican President and chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, Felipe Calderón, pushed back against the idea that coal is cheap at the Tropical Landscapes Summit in Jakarta, saying that, "It is not true that fossil fuels, either oil or coal, will be cheap forever. Indonesia has an incredible capacity and the natural resources to go all the way to renewables."

As communities in Batang continued to protest, President Widodo cancelled his planned visit, opting instead to attend the opening of the National Development Planning Meeting in Jakarta. The military has also backed down, and landowners are being allowed to return to some of their fields. But the situation remains tense, and people fear they will be forced to leave soon.

Now all eyes turn to Japan and the World Bank. Both have clear policies meant to safeguard human rights, but both also have a history of overlooking violations in favor of support for large projects. The World Bank's involvement, through a $33.9 million guarantee for Batang from the Indonesia Infrastructure Guarantee Fund it helped establish, is particularly galling. The Bank has instituted new restrictions on support for coal, which should prevent funds going towards dangerous projects like this one in Central Java.

With Batang, JBIC and the World Bank have an opportunity to change course and use their influence to ensure that the rights of local communities are respected. It all comes down to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe and World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim. Will they stand up for the people of Batang, or will they continue to silently support human rights violations?

You can sign the petition here to help support the people of Batang.