Indonesia: A new victim related to Indorayon

Indorayon’s pulp and rayon factory (PT IIU) in Porsea, North Sumatra, has provoked a long socio-environmental conflict in the region, where villagers and local NGOs have been demanding its closure -due to the pollution affecting Lake Toba because of the factory effluents, the destruction of the forests of the area and the plantation of tree monocultures to obtain raw material- while the mill’s workers want to keep it open in the absence of other job opportunities in the region. In March 1999 the government -which has proved unable to find a fair solution to the problem- decided to temporarily close the factory on environmental reasons (see WRM Bulletin 21). But recently it decided to give a permission for the reopening of the mill.

Unfortunately, the situation of confrontation and violence in the area has not ended. On the contrary it has recently claimed a new victim: Herman Sitorus, an engineering high school student who was shot by a North Tapanuli police officer on June 21st. The incident happened when the police repressed a demonstration by a crowd from Porsea at Parparean City demanding the release of thirteen villagers from the Joint Community Post at Sirait Uruk who had been kidnapped by unidentified armed men the night before. The condition of a further 27 people remains unknown.

WALHI (Indonesian Forum for the Environment) condemned this senseless death and urged the government to establish an independent team to investigate the case. WALHI also urged the Police Chief to immediately clarify the use of force against the villagers and claimed that the police were legally, morally and materially responsible for the incident. Regarding the unsolved conflict of Indorayon the government was urged to postpone the reopening of the factory until a comprehensive study on its environmental impact is performed.

Source: WRM’s bulletin Nº 36, July 2000


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Invisible Victims in Indonesia
Even after death, we will remember what you have done to us.
W. Eugene Smith and Aillen M. Smith, in Minamata
The cats that are lazy don’t realise
the dirty rats.
They come to terrorise.
Being smart and false
The rats behave disgustingly.
Probably because the cats pretend not
to see.
Iwan Fals (Indonesian Folk Singer)
‘Invisible Criminals’
However, I propose to use this expression in connection with the changes
resulting from the advancement of science and technology, and also with what the
Germans call ‘Umwertung aller Werte’ or the collapse of values in social, moral
and even in religious spheres.
From a criminological perspective, criminals do not want to be left behind by the
changes and challenges of the age; they jealously join the race with the law. This race
becomes worse if the criminals cooperate with the authorities, with resultant abuse of power
in our community. In this context, the authorities are controlled or even steered by the
* An abbreviated version of this paper was published in Criminology Australia, vol. 3, no. 1.
East meets West
‘invisible criminal’. This ‘invisible criminal’, if seen through everyday spectacles, is an
honourable citizen who rides in stylish cars and uses expensive perfume. And on his study
table stands in an expensive frame a photograph of him together with authority figures, as
confirmation of his special status, which would discourage tax officers.
The justice authorities seem to be hypnotised in this race. They claim that there has
been only one real case of pollution¾the Sidoarjo case¾because this one was brought to
court. However, the court dismissed the case. Meanwhile the situation regarding the
Surabaya river, which may be approaching the severity of the terrible Minamata affair in
Japan (see separate section in this paper), is almost disregarded.
Likewise, the case of the Indorayon Utama factory in North Sumatra, where the stench
of pollution can be smelt 40 km from the factory, is belittled and the local people’s concern
is not given proper attention. The Association for Studying and Developing the Community
(KSPPM) in Siborong-borong, North Sumatra, which has been officially established, is not
allowed to operate any more by the local military district head.
It has also been said that the Bengawan Solo river has been so heavily polluted that it
needs to be rinsed with the water from the Gajah Mungkur reservoir (Surabaya Post Daily,
3 September 1990). Evidently ‘pollution is continuously threatening us’ and ‘poisonous
elements are increasing’ (Jawa Pos Daily, 31 August 1990). In Jawa Pos it is further
stated that ‘at least 62 industrial enterprises in and around Surakarta have been throwing
their waste water into the Bengawan Solo river and polluting the water’. In Jakarta, the
Governor has twice expressed his annoyance because factories are throwing their waste
water into the Krukut river (Merdeka Daily, 8 September 1990). The Suara Pembaruan
Daily (10 September 1990) reported: ‘The pollution in the Mahakam river and Karang
Mumus river is becoming more and more alarming’. The list of pollution incidents will not
stop as long as the press is given the freedom to report about it.
It seems that law enforcement officials have forgotten the statement in Statute No.
14/1970 that besides upholding the law, we must also honour justice. Therefore, the
classical idea that the law must be just needs to be questioned. In the case of Sidoarjo and
Indorayon Utama, for example, it can be seen clearly that the law seems to be upheld but
justice is disregarded.
It is no wonder then if people ask: ‘Have the police and the public prosecutors carried
out their duties well?’ We observe from the cases mentioned that:
· the criminal law has been dominated by the administrative law with many
undesirable consequences;
· it is essential for the definition of a criminal act in the law of environment
management to be reformulated in a more exact and accurate way so that a
meaningful law can be proposed;
· if this cannot be done soon, the police and the public prosecutors ought to use
the law for economic crimes in facing environmental pollution problems.
‘Invisible criminals’ seem to be a specific phenomenon of the end of the twentieth
century, and if the problems they cause are not handled strictly and immediately, they are
likely to become worse.
Some may think that these ‘invisible criminals’ look like what Sutherland (1983) labelled
‘white-collar criminals’, and from a certain point of view, the opinion is not totally wrong. If
we consider, however, their influences and their practices, and if we place them in the
context of the new phase of accelerating economic development in which people expect to
enjoy justice and prosperity, these ‘invisible criminals’ take on a new dimension.
Invisible Victims in Indonesia
In listing some of the more egregious examples of environmental pollution, I would like
to refer to the report of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (1989). This report
specifically mentions the following instances:
· pollution in Porsea resulting from the establishment of a pulp and rayon
factory, and forest-stripping;
· increasingly unfertile soil and other environmental consequences resulting from
forest-stripping in Kalimantan¾funds designated for replanting of trees have
· disturbance of the ecosystem in Maluku resulting from forest-stripping carried
out to provide raw materials for plywood factories;
· lack of environment awareness everywhere, accompanied by the high use of
plastic and tin wrappings which cannot rot, thus increasing environmental
· the desire to accelerate the production of agriculture has stimulated the
excessive use of pesticides, which threatens the lives of other creatures,
including human beings, through the pollution of ground water;
· social problems have resulted from the policy of some companies in
employing underaged children as cheap labour;
· products rejected overseas as having undesirable qualities are freely sold in
· factory labourers in industrial cities are squeezed by their employers, who are
trying to reduce production costs to the lowest rate;
· women labourers receive unjust treatment¾no equal pay and very little work
care and protection;
· rights are being ignored in the process of land release, especially in the
government’s providing land for the needs of communities;
· lack of capital among small-scale businessmen and the complexities involved
in getting loans with low interests from banks or loan-giving cooperatives
encourage money-lenders who charge very high interest;
· the need for foreign exchange has caused communities in tourist regions to
disregard the rights of the local citizens to enjoy development and education;
· the need for skilled foreign personnel in many projects, often necessitates the
foreigners’ presence without their families, which can be socially disruptive;
· the policy of transmigration is often mishandled, so that many of the people
resettled in underpopulated regions return to their original settlement. Similar
problems flow from inadequate care of Indonesian guest workers sent to
other countries;
East meets West
· most projects, with complete infrastructures, are concentrated in Java, which
causes urbanisation to increase and causes the construction attempts in
regions outside Java to be neglected, especially because the best experts are
gathered in Java;
· there is an unwillingness in communities to question the consequences of
government policies, such as the selection of project locations and procedures
for land-compensation;
· the rapid rate of economic development has led to social disruption in families
and whole communities;
· the imbalance between population growth and the creation of jobs causes high
competition for jobs and increases urbanisation.
‘Invisible Victims’
We will not find the expression ‘invisible victim’ in the terms of victimology either and it is
important not to confuse this phenomenon with victimless crime. In prostitution for example,
there is an opportunity for the prostitute to choose to enter a business arrangement with the
client: the woman is willing to render a service and the man is willing to pay the fee. In the
context mentioned above, we can say that there is an agreement between both
parties¾between the criminal and the victim, if we insist on using the term ‘victim’ for this
In the case of the ‘invisible victims’, by contrast, there is no agreement at all. The
‘invisible criminals’ pretend not to know that there will be victims at all. In the case of
Minamata, the Chisso company did not want to know or pretended not to know anything
about ‘victims’, although the first clear case of what became known as ‘Minamata disease’
was reported in 1953. The Minamata affair is taken up here as an example and warning
about how dangerous such negligence can be if a government does not take drastic action.
It should also be mentioned here that in the United States, Congress and the individual
state legislatures have created thousands of new laws concerning the environment. And in
handling dangerous environmental pollution, the twenty thousand attorneys who specialise in
environmental law have become some of the most sought-after professionals in the United
States. Furthermore, Time magazine of 12 March 1990 reported that ‘the Justice
Department now has twenty full-time lawyers working on such prosecutions, backed up by
US attorneys and FBI agents across the nation, plus fifty criminal investigators at the
Environmental Protection Agency’. It is indeed an example which should be given proper
We need to be aware that people’s health is a precious asset of any country. What will
happen to Indonesian people who cannot afford to have mineral water, which is in fact more
expensive than gasoline? It is a fact that ordinary people drink water processed from the
water of the Surabaya river, which may have been polluted by industrial and domestic
wastes. Even though the authorities say that they continuously monitor the pollution, the
people are still anxious. In Surabaya one can see, on certain days of the week, great
amounts of foam in the river. The evidence of pollution speaks for itself, although there have
been inspections carried out.
It is vital that we should be very cautious and should learn from the Minamata case (see
later section in this paper). From this affair we learn that even experts and scientists can be
silenced. The Government of Japan in fact warned the fishermen that they might get nothing
Invisible Victims in Indonesia
if they did not accept Chisso’s offer promptly. It seems that even the Government of Japan
could be steered by the ‘invisible criminals’.
Invisible Crime
Two expressions are called to mind when considering the phenomenon of ‘invisible
crime’¾’water never flows upward except when it is forced by a pump’ and ‘big dogs won’t
bite one another’. Together, these sayings go some way to explaining why most prison
inmates come from the lower class of society. Those few from the upper class of the society
have either committed such heinous crimes that they are intolerable to their friends, or
alternatively they have been sacrificed by their friends because of the need for a scapegoat.
About 18 years ago, in a scientific lecture in the Faculty of Law in Airlangga University,
I tried to describe a profile of a white-collar criminal. I wrote that:
many criminals of this time wear expensive suits and ties, seem to be obedient to
the law, eager in giving to charities, and if necessary, become members of well
known social committees, riding in luxurious cars, carrying out hidden crimes
behind beautifully arranged speeches and politeness. They don’t come from the
poor and unrefined class of the society, they don’t have large muscles like
common gangsters according to Lombroso’s picture of criminals. They often
have handsome faces, their wives are generally beautiful, but they are ‘saloon
robbers’ who are as wicked as robbers and murderers, but use other methods.
While for white-collar criminals I use the term ‘saloon robbers’, for ‘invisible criminals’ I
use the term ‘mass murderers’. If we seriously study the Minamata affair, for example, we
will find how horrible and terrifying the consequences of their actions can be.
The Minamata Affair
The Minamata affair was not only horrible and terrifying, but also very poignant. The people
of Minamata were fishermen who lived peacefully and tranquilly. Their lives were
transformed with the establishment of the Chisso Corporation, which had begun as a carbide
and fertiliser company (in Japanese, ‘chisso’ means nitrogen), but by this time was a
petrochemical company and a maker of plastics.
The people of Minamata began to suffer from a strange disease which caused braindamage.
Eugene and Ailleen Smith explain the phenomena of the Chisso-Minamata disease
as follows:
The nervous system begins to degenerate, to atrophy. First, a tingling and
growing numbness of limbs and lips. Motor functions may become severely
disturbed, the speech slurred, the field of vision constricted. In extreme cases,
the victims lapse into unconsciousness, involuntary movements, and often
uncontrolled shouting. Autopsies show that the brain becomes spongelike as
cells are eaten away (Smith & Smith 1975).
At first, this strange disease was thought to be infectious but even cats died after eating
the polluted fish. It was in early 1956 that the disease took on the proportions of an
epidemic, and finally became known as ‘Minamata Disease’.
In July of 1959, a group from Kumamoto University reported that organic mercury was
the cause of the disease. Many independent committees were formed. One met only four
times, then mysteriously disappeared¾it had been sponsored by the Japanese Chemical
Association, of which Chisso was a member. Another committee reported bluntly that the
cause definitely was mercury poisoning, and was disbanded the next day. Chisso used
East meets West
many cunning methods to show that it really would clean industrial wastes, even though in
fact it did not hesitate to bribe, buy, or silence experts and scientists. However, the truth
could not be hidden indefinitely and finally the Japanese Government has to admit the bitter
Tackling Pollution in Indonesia
In April 1988 in Jakarta, the Minister for Population and the Living Environment stated,
among others things, that: ‘the community needs to be involved actively in questioning
pollution cases to bring forward suits to court’.
Can this good suggestion function in the ‘sobural’ (an Indonesian acronym for social
values, civilisation aspects, and structural factors) existing in the Indonesian community?
Last year, Minister Emil Salim from the Department of Population and the Living
Environment named three large industries which had been polluting the environment and had
been violating the Government’s regulation. One of them had also been logging forests
arbitrarily. People silently wonder if the Government cannot take proper actions against
such violations, then who can? As I mentioned earlier, the Association for Studying and
Developing the Community (KKSPPM) in North Sumatra, which had been unyieldingly
fighting for the people’s rights, was silenced and its activities were stopped by the local
military district. This fact is surprising, ironic, and frightening.
Development of this country, especially the process of modernisation, will sooner or
later bring with it unknown and unexpected consequences. Especially in a Third World
country like Indonesia, which is working hard to establish a just and prosperous nation,
development should always emphasise improving the welfare of the people without causing
the people to suffer. Development should not bring prosperity to only a part of the nation,
but rather should enrich all the people.
Our government has been working hard to improve the people’s welfare, but all this
work will not mean much if the people then suffer because their health is damaged by
environmental pollution; especially at present, when there is not yet any law which can
strongly support a ‘class action’. We cannot even be sure if we can claim financial
compensation for the people who have been injured by the consequences of environmental
pollution. It seems that the people’s welfare in connection with environmental issues is not
regarded seriously.
Does environmental pollution disturb the Surabaya, Wonokromo, Awung, Jagir, and
Brantas rivers only? The Suara Pembaruan Daily of 29 October 1988 reported, among
others things, that ‘the attempt to overcome pollution in the Bekasi river hasn’t succeeded so
far. The water of the river is still dark and bad-smelling, so it was said by the people who
live along the river-side . . .’. It was further stated that ‘. . . they not only suffer because the
water can’t be used for washing and bathing, but also because there are no fish anymore . . .
‘. The regional Government of Bekasi has been asked to sue the owner of the industrial
company which causes the pollution, but that has not yet happened. The Kompas Daily of
25 February 1989 spoke along the same lines: ‘If not regulated, the tin mine in Bangka can
pollute its environment’. I cannot list here all the reports about acts which, recognised or
not, will ruin the country’s future for the sake of the prosperity and greed of a few immoral
Can action be taken to save these rivers? Environmental pollution does not only
happen in Java. The case of the Cavenagh river in Singapore is a very pertinent one for our
purposes. This was an extremely polluted waterway running through the centre of
Singapore. In the mid-seventies, the level of pollution was such that the Government of
Singapore decided to take dramatic action to clean up this mess. Within ten years the
stinking water, junk and garbage had all gone. The clean river is now a national asset, which
Invisible Victims in Indonesia
has become a recreation facility, and moreover it has a social and cultural function for the
present and future generations.
Appeals to the people during political campaigns become empty slogans. Beautiful
promises are just lip-service. So, it is not surprising that the newspapers only supply news
about ‘days of empty speeches’. The social gap, about which President Suharto has given
many warnings, is answered by sharing only one per cent of the profit for the people’s
cooperation. It will do no good, if one hand gives honey while the other hand gives poison
in the shape of environmental pollution.
This paper cannot of course cover all cases of environmental pollution in Indonesia.
Through the cases which have been discussed, however, it is hoped that those who have the
responsibility to take care of the people’s welfare will be moved to take the measures
needed to prevent the continuance of environmental pollution.
The present situation in Indonesia can be summarised as follows:
n the Indonesian government has been working very hard to improve the welfare of
the nation and the country. However, it must be recognised that careless
development may become the cause of environmental pollution;
n ‘invisible victims’ exist in Indonesia, as a result of careless development and
resultant environmental pollution and damage, even though the number has not
yet reached a dramatic level;
n to prevent the increase in the numbers of ‘invisible criminals’ we need a set of
laws which are firm, clear, and which can be enforced honestly and with
n in the near future the government needs to make a law for ‘class action’ and a
firm, clear and practical law about compensation for the victims of environmental
n industrial methods and machinery which have been abandoned in Western
countries because they cause environmental pollution should not be used in
n the courts should be oriented, for the sake of justice, towards the welfare of the
The writer hopes that this description of ‘invisible criminals’ and ‘invisible victims’ may
give a sufficiently clear picture to motivate us to develop our talents and to fulfil our
responsibility not only to our children, grandchildren and to our country, but especially as
people who have faith in God, to the Creator of the universe who has shown His mercy and
love to our fertile and prosperous country.
Eugene Smith, W. & Smith, Ailleen M. 1975, Minamata, Chatto & Windus, London, p. 33
East meets West
Sutherland, E. H. 1883-1950, White collar crime: the uncut version, with an introduction
by G. Geis & C. Goff 1983, Yale University Press, New Haven.

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