Last week, bulldozers moved in on the informal settlement of Kampung Pulo, located on the banks of Jakarta’s largest river, the Ciliwung, sparking violent clashes between residents and security forces. The Jakarta government claims it is necessary to evict the residents to prevent the floods that cripple the capital every year and lead to major economic losses.
According to Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or Ahok, the numerous “illegal” settlements on the city’s riverbanks interfere with the water catchment and prevent the absorption of overflowing water. The eviction of Kampung Pulo residents is the first stage of a major flood-mitigation project of the provincial government, which will involve widening the Ciliwung River to 35-50 metres along its length from Depok to Manggarai. Kompas has estimated that the project could ultimately displace more than 47,000 people. Kampung Pulo was selected as the first stage because of its tendency to flood at the first sign of heavy rain.
The eviction last Thursday is the culmination of a long period in which Kampung Pulo residents attempted to negotiate with the authorities about replacement housing and compensation. The residents had proposed an alternative for social housing, Kampung Susun. Back when he was still governor of Jakarta, President Joko Widodo accepted the plan, but his successor, Ahok, rejected it. Instead, he has offered residents new rental apartments (rusunawa) on Jatinegara Barat Road, about a kilometre away, or public housing on the outskirts of Jakarta.
The rental apartments will reportedly be free of charge for the first three months, after which residents will be charged Rp 300,000 (AU$30) a month, with additional charges for electricity and water. Residents who move to the rental apartments will be provided with a bank account and a Jakarta identity card. Residents have deemed this offer inadequate. Most Kampung Pulo residents engage in informal economic activities, such as selling chickens, making tofu, or mechanical repairs, which would not be permitted in an apartment environment.
Ahok has said the government would show “no leniency” and would no longer be open to negotiation with residents. He said compensation would be determined by the administration, and that none would be offered to those who had been living in Kampung Pulo for less than 30 years.
The eviction of Kampung Pulo residents has been characterised by limited negotiation, inadequate compensation and the use of excessive force, in which more than 10 people were injured, and at least 27 others arrested. Azas Tigor Nainggolan, head of the nongovernmental organisation FAKTA, criticised the heavy-handed tactics of the security forces, and the National Commission on Human Rights, Komnas HAM, also deplored their repressive and inhumane actions.
The experience of Kampung Pulo is consistent with other evictions in Jakarta. Forced evictions contradict the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which was ratified and became part of Indonesian law in 2005. According to the Covenant, evictions may only take place in extraordinary circumstances, and must always be preceded by negotiations with residents on compensation, which must take residents’ wishes and needs into account. The fact people do not hold title to the land they occupy – often used as a justification for the eviction of Kampung Pulo residents – is not a valid reason for eviction. Likewise, the demolition of shelters erected by the landless for their survival is prohibited. When evictions take place, violence may not be used.
While the eviction of Kampung Pulo raises significant human rights concerns, there has been much support for Ahok, particularly from the middle class. Activist Saidiman Ahmad has argued that by providing the residents with a bank account, it will be easier for them to access social security services, which could play a crucial role in the alleviation of poverty. Similarly, Maruar Sirait, chairman of Relawan Merah Putih, Joko Widodo’s volunteers, inspected the new apartments, finding them “safe, comfortable and clean” and said that Ahok should be supported. These views have gained traction in the media, which have lauded Ahok as a decisive leader, while the Kampung Pulo residents have been portrayed as anarchic and ungrateful.
The support for the eviction is informed by the opinion that the Kampung Pulo residents have occupied state land illegally, a discourse stimulated by the governor himself. Earlier, Ahok offered residents Rp 5 million to return to their “villages”. This not only ignores the fact that many families have been living in Kampung Pulo (and other settlements) for generations, but also polarises residents into those who “belong” in Jakarta and migrants. Ahok commented: “Those who live on the banks of the Ciliwung are actually migrants, not Betawi [the original inhabitants of Jakarta]. Betawi are known for being clever, they’re not stupid. There’s no way a Betawi would raise his family on a riverbank.”
The strong support for Ahok’s policies appears to be influenced by the view of many in Jakarta that the city now has a leader who is trying to solve the many and complex challenges of the capital, including recurrent flooding and poor living standards. But Kampung Pulo also reveals a blatant disregard for human rights and a reluctance to protect vulnerable groups in society.