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Rights Body Intensifies Mudflow Probe

The National Commission on Human Rights has deepened its investigation to find out whether gross human rights violations were committed against the thousands of people living in a 90-hectare area in Porong, Sidoarjo, East Java, by a company drilling for oil and gas there.

Legally, the commission has the authority to conduct legal investigations and collect evidence and then submit it to the Attorney General’s Office (AGO), which will prosecute the case.

Commission chairman Ifdhal Kasim said they would investigate all key officials of the contractor, PT Lapindo Brantas, which is owned by Aburizal Bakrie, the coordinating public welfare minister at the time of the disaster on May 29, 2006.

“Although it is clear human rights violations have occurred, we must determine whether they were gross human rights violations. We must also conclude whether the disaster was due to human error or natural causes. We must tread carefully as this a legal investigation,” he said.

Ifdhal added the commission would announce and submit its findings to the AGO in April.

In its preliminary investigation last year, the commission concluded the hot thick mudflow, which has forced locals to flee their homes and rice fields, was triggered by careless drilling activities carried out by Lapindo.

The commission accused Lapindo of committing “very serious human rights violations.”

“That was our opinion then. Now, we are conducting a legal investigation that could bring the company to the human rights court,” Ifdhal said.

Earlier, commission member HM Kabul Supriyadhie said his office had, since the middle of last year, formed a 19-member ad hoc team to thoroughly investigate the large scale abuse of human rights allegedly following on from the disaster.

Kabul said Lapindo had allegedly violated at least 18 human rights, including the victims’ basic rightsof living.

Deputy Attorney General for Special Crimes Marwan Effendi said he looked forward to the results of the commission’s investigation.

The American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) concluded in a report published in Oct. 2008 that the Lapindo mudflow occurred due to human error, and not seismic activity, as stated by Lapindo.

In response to the report, Lapindo spokeswoman Yuniwati Terryana said in Nov. 2008 the company regretted the results of the report, saying they were not based on research by experts.

Spokesman for the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), Erwin Usman, said the forum had inspected the area at the end of the year.

“Hundreds of families still don’t have access to adequate housing,” he said.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono issued a 2007 presidential decree stipulating that the mudflow victims would receive compensation for damaged houses and land in installments. The government will cover parts of the damages.

Erwin said the issuing of the decree had led to alleged corruption of the distribution of Rp 4 trillion (US$422.49 million) in state funds.

Walhi reported Lapindo to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) on Dec. 16.

The KPK said it would follow up the forum’s report.

(c) The Jakarta Post

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