Rina Chandran, Bangkok (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A tourism mega-project on the Indonesian island of Lombok has uprooted local and indigenous people, and destroyed homes, fields, rivers, and religious sites, U.N. human rights experts said.
The Mandalika, located in Lombok's West Nusa Tenggara province, includes a Grand Prix motorcycle circuit, hotels and a golf course, and is part of the "10 New Balis" strategy proposed by President Joko Widodo in 2016 to boost tourism revenues.
In developing the 2-hectare (5-acre) site, "local residents were subjected to threats and intimidations, and forcibly evicted from their land without compensation", said Olivier De Schutter, U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.
Businesses and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) that funded the ongoing project, failed to do due diligence "to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how they address adverse human rights impacts", he said in a statement.
The AIIB said its operations adhered to its environmental and social guidelines, and that it had responded "swiftly" to complaints related to the project and commissioned an independent consultant to engage with the Indonesian government, businesses and local residents.
"The final report found no evidence of the alleged coercion, direct use of force, and intimidation relating to land acquisition and resettlement," it said in a statement late on Thursday.
AIIB and the state-owned Indonesia Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) have agreed on an action plan "to improve stakeholder engagement... with project-affected people, village heads and local government officials, and more widely with civil society and the wider population of Lombok," it added.
The ITDC and the Mandalika Grand Prix Association, which are both involved in the Mandalika development, did not respond to requests for comment.
Globally, there is a growing awareness – and backlash against – the negative impacts of tourism, including environmental damage and the destruction of neighbourhoods as local residents are priced out.
Poorer countries in Southeast Asia are particularly ill-equipped to limit the "invisible burden" of over-tourism, said a 2019 report from The Travel Foundation charity in Britain.
After the coronavirus pandemic devastated tourism-reliant economies of islands such as Indonesia's Bali and Thailand's Phuket, authorities are prioritising hospitality industry workers for vaccines in order to attract foreign tourists – a move criticised by human rights groups.
The Mandalika was touted by authorities as critical to create jobs and improve livelihoods in the impoverished province, but human rights activists say the project – like many other tourism developments – has hurt indigenous people most.
"Indigenous people have no legal protections over their land and are not consulted or involved in the decision-making on these projects that do not benefit them," said Rukka Sombolinggi, secretary general of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN).
"The government is keen to draw investors in industry, mining and tourism to revive the economy, but these are false solutions that hurt indigenous people, and have a big environmental impact, as well," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The Mandalika development "tramples on human rights (and) is fundamentally incompatible" with the concept of sustainable development, De Schutter said.
"The time has passed for massive transnational tourism infrastructure projects that benefit a handful of economic actors rather than the population as a whole," he added.
Instead, governments keen to build back better after COVID-19 "should focus on empowering local communities", enhancing livelihoods, and enabling their participation in decision-making, he said.
[Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran; Editing by Michael Taylor.]