Remembering human rights defender Yohanes Yohathan Balubun

Patricia Miranda Wattimena
Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Yohanes Yohathan Balubun (YB), an Indigenous Peoples’ human rights defender and a lawyer from Maluku, dedicated his entire life to the struggles of Indigenous Peoples in Maluku and beyond. 

Belonging to the Ohoi El indigenous community in Southeast Maluku, YB started his activism 20 years ago focusing on indigenous struggles on land and forest rights. Representing the Maluku region of Indonesia, he later joined Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (AMAN), the country-wide alliance of the Indigenous Peoples in Indonesia and currently the largest indigenous organisations in the world consisting of more than 2000 indigenous communities across the country. YB had been the chairperson of AMAN Maluku since it was established in 2009 and was part of many other human rights organisations and networks such as Baileo Maluku, HUMANUM and KontraS among others.

As the chairperson of AMAN Maluku, he was particularly strong in voicing Indigenous Peoples’ concerns, agendas and priorities in many different forums from local to international levels.

He played an important role in the struggle of Indigenous Peoples in the Aru islands, who are still fighting against a land grabbing attempt by the "PT. Menara Group consortium" for a sugarcane plantation on 484,500 hectares of indigenous ancestral territories.[1] YB had also been persistently assisting the Paperu indigenous community to reclaim their sea territory, which was grabbed by "PT. Maluku Diving and Tourism" owned by Kurt Walter Gross, a Swiss national.[2]  The company started its operations in 2007 after leasing 9 hectares of land around the Paperu cape area. As the company started to claim sea area too, which is collectively owned by Paperu community, it triggered conflict with and among Paperu villagers.[3]

For more than 30 years, national plantation community PTPN XIV had been controlling 2,500 hectares of Tananahu ancestral land without any consent of and compensation to the respective community. Tananahu community together with AMAN Maluku, led by YB, sued the plantation company and later won the case in 2012. However, even after the court recognised the ownership rights of Tananahu community of their land, the fight continued, as the company continued to occupy and use the land in various ways.

Because of his activism, too often, YB was harassed and threatened, experiencing smear campaigns and other attempts to silence him, but he was unshakeable. During these times, he would always say:

“It is our right to manage and control our land[4] because we survive from our land. We were born on our land and if we die, we will die proudly fighting to protect our land.”

Tragically, YB's last fight against land grabbing led to his death. He was murdered on the 7th of April 2016, after helping the Tananahu Indigenous community fight against PTPN XIV. YB left his wife and two children, Vandhana (girl, 14) and Alfa (boy, 5), deeply saddened as their father, the one and only breadwinner, was gone. YB was and still is a highly respected and inspiring human rights activist. Because of his commitment to Indigenous Peoples in Maluku, particularly to Paperu, Aru, Haruku, Tananahu, Nuaulu and many other indigenous communities in Indonesia, he will always be remembered.

About the Author

A friend and a sister, who will stay persist to resist. Who has always been inspired by YB and will continue the fight and die proudly whenever it happens. Because she knows that she had a good life fighting not only for indigenous communities in Maluku but also many other indigenous communities across the world, who have been oppressed for centuries searching for freedom to control and manage their own territories, and struggling to inherit a world worth living in for their future generations.Patricia joined the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) as its Advocacy Coordinator in 2016 after experiencing seven good years with Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (AMAN) in Indonesia. She is also the current Asia regional focal point for Commitment Based Initiative (CBI) 5 “Secure Territorial Rights for Indigenous Peoples” of the International Land Coalition.

[1] See submission by Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (AMAN) and Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), Request for Consideration of the Situation of Indigenous Peoples of the Aru Islands, Indonesia, under the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s Early Warning and Urgent Action Procedure, 2015:

[2] See news article, Paperu people will sue PT. Maluku Diving and Tourism:

[3] See Submission Report to Human Rights Council on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom of Indigenous Peoples in Indonesia, Universal Periodic Review, Thirteenth Session, 21st May – 1st June 2012:

[4] Land in this context covers the whole territory of one indigenous community including forest, coastal, and sea area.