MAC: Mines and Communities

Walhi splits with USAID

Published by MAC on 2003-03-25

Walhi splits with USAID

Source: Laksamana.Net, March 25, 2003

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) has severed ties with one of its main donors, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in protest against the US-led war on Iraq. Longgena Ginting, director of Walhi's national executive board, on Monday (24/3/03) said the non-government organization has sent a letter to USAID informing the agency of its decision, state news agency Antara reported. He said the ongoing US military aggression in Iraq is a violation of the basic principles of human rights. Walhi was founded in 1980 with the aim of working toward equitable management of Indonesia's natural resources and environment, in conjunction with efforts to transform the nation into a democratic society.

The Jakarta-based organization won fame and respect as one of the most outspoken opponents of the corrupt and repressive regime of former dictator Suharto, criticizing national environmental policies and campaigning for indigenous peoples' rights. Walhi initially grouped just a few dozen local and provincial non-government organizations (NGOs) and has since developed into a broad network with over 300 member NGOs, becoming Indonesia's top environmental watchdog. In addition to dues and contributions from its members, Walhi has funded its activities through assistance from several sources, including: CARE, OXFAM, USAID, the Institute of Social Research and Development (LPPS), Netherlands Organization for International Development Cooperation (NOVIB), Belgium's National Center for Development Cooperation (NCOS), Canadian Development Agency (CIDA), Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation (Yayasan KEHATI), and Friends of the Environment Fund (DML).

Walhi's relationship with USAID was first tested in 1995 following complaints that US foreign aid was being used to discredit American businesses in Indonesia. The controversy was related to New Orleans-based Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold, which in September 1995 applied pressure on USAID to withdraw its financial aid to Walhi, which had been accusing the mega-rich mining company of polluting rivers, destroying crops and complicity in military attacks on civilians in Papua province. USAID opted to continue supporting Walhi, but reports said the agency subsequently attached strings to its aid, specifically that the funding should not be used for activities critical of mining.

The US government agency, which has an annual budget in Indonesia of about $130 million, denied imposing such conditions on its aid. But it's no secret that anti-mining group Jatam (Indonesian Mining Advocacy Network) had its USAID funding cut after it criticized the Indonesian operations of US mining giant Newmont. In April 2000, Jatam was informed it would no longer be receiving USAID assistance. According to Asia Times Online, Jatam had previously been given $75,000 to protect the rights of communities to manage their natural resources and assist in monitoring the impact of mining operations. In 1999 Jatam demanded and end to all large-scale commercial mining activities, citing human rights abuses and environmental destruction. USAID consequently expressed doubt over Jatam's ability to give impartial assistance to communities and claimed the group's actions were "harmful to US goals".

Walhi is not the only Indonesian non-government organization to stop receiving US government funds. Women's rights group, the Advisory Association for Women Entrepreneurs in Indonesia, on Monday announced it would no longer receive aid from the US and its war allies Britain and Australia. The Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) on Tuesday it would also refuse funds from the US government and its allies. "This is a form of our protest against the attitude of the three countries which have ignored the international community," YLBHI chairman Munarman was quoted as saying by Agence France Presse. He said the US-led invasion of Iraq was a humanitarian tragedy and a gross violation of human rights. "We are also calling on other NGOs in Indonesia to halt all kind of cooperation with the governments of the US, Britain and Australia," he added. Government officials and moderate Muslim leaders have rejected calls for boycotting US products and severing ties with Washington, saying the Indonesian public should be able to distinguish between economic and political matters.

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