Justice for Indonesia’s Sea Sand Export Policy: Deprivation of Environmental Rights


July 28, 2022, was a historic day as the UN General Assembly approved a resolution stating that everyone has the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment (UN, 2022). The declaration expresses consensus on the recognition of the right to a healthy environment, that the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is a human right that must be fulfilled by countries around the world. In simple terms, this declaration recognizes the harmony of human life with nature.

The Declaration is a leap forward by providing a normative space that both guarantees and gives hope for the improvement of non-human conditions that affect human beings as a human right. The Declaration provides affirmation for governments to promote, protect, and fulfill this right to the environment. It creates space for greater justice and opportunities for environmental advocacy, as well as demands for greater accountability of relevant actors (Andersen, 2022).

However, the fight for the right to a healthy environment has been severely challenged in developing countries. This is mainly due to the focus on economic development, even if it neglects the environmental issue. Cleared forests, polluted water, air pollution, and so on are detrimental to local communities. People are losing the sources of livelihood that they once had. There is a deprivation of rights there (Purnomo, 2014). This is even more worrying after the issuance of Government Regulation (Peraturan Presiden) No. 26/2023, which opens export taps for sea sand (CNBC, 2023). The regulation has become controversial and has caused pro and con reactions. Those in favor of this rule are mainly businesspeople who will benefit and overseas partners who need ocean sand resources.  However, local communities might be directly affected by this policy. This piece doesn’t necessarily argue whether it should support or reject the recent policy. Instead, this piece wants to put more emphasis on the environmental right. Therefore, the question is “What efforts need to be made to ensure the holding of the right to a healthy environment?”

On Eco-Cosmology as World View

Skolimowski in his eco-cosmology shows an interesting way of thinking that when nature becomes a place for all human activities, be it the search for freedom and honor, it is necessary to raise responsibility for humans in instituting justice and sustainability for the universe itself as a place for humans to live (Skolimowski, 1990).

This means there needs to be a conscious reciprocal relationship with nature, thereby raising ecological awareness. This perspective is a renewal of anthropocentrism ideas which previously only focused on humans as the center of the universe. If previously anthropocentric thought stated that nature was a fork and plate (instrumental), then Skolimowski stated that nature is a space for our activities (sanctuary).

Eco-Cosmology Meets Democratic Public Participation

I see the implementation of this view as being in line with democracy, which is a collective decision process, as the best way to encourage human responsibility for the environment. This is especially true for one aspect of democracy, namely public participation. Apart from that, theoretical and practical studies related to public participation are already well established so implementation only needs to adapt to the contours of local culture.

This is because public participation has an urgency to ensure that every policy produced is for the common good, not just for certain parties (Rahma, 2019). By holding public participation, it will provide various benefits such as improving the quality of policies, long-term cost efficiency, building consensus, coordinating implementation, and building trust (Creighton, 2005).

For the benefits of public participation to be achieved, several principles need to be included as guarantees in every policy-making, namely 1) everyone has the right to be involved, 2) public contributions can influence policies, 3) sustainability and communication of interests of all parties, 4) public feedback on participation mechanisms, 5) objective information, 6) intensive discussion space.

Arnstein’s Ladder. Source: Pusat Studi Lingkungan Hidup UGM

The study of public participation is deepened by Arnstein’s eight rungs, which are narrowed down to three rungs: non-participation, tokenism, and citizen power (PSLH, 2022). Simply put, public participation demands two rights: the right to access information and the right to access justice.

Then how is the public participation process in Indonesia’s sea sand export policy?

Unfortunately, this export policy is considered to lack public participation. The existing policy-making process is considered non-transparent (DPR, 2023). The lack of participatory invitation from the government and the lack of access to academic studies as the basis for this policy is a particular concern. The lack of communication of this policy is feared to ignore the ecological impacts that may occur (Kompas, 2023a). Meanwhile, this policy also does not mention the existence of fishermen. In fact, fishermen are the profession closest to the sea, so any changes in the sea will potentially have an impact on these fishermen (Kompas, 2023b). To further worsen the situation, this lack of public participation seems to be an ingrained problem in Indonesia (Rahma, 2018; Afinnas et al, 2022; Putri et al, 2022).

Sea sand export policy does not fulfill the existing principles of public participation

The government’s arbitrary actions in making its policies can also be said to be in the non-participation group or specifically, on the first rung of the ladder, namely manipulation because it occurs despite the government’s claim that this policy has gone through years of in-depth study, yet it is not based on mature and open academic data and analysis (Kompas, 2023c).

Under these conditions, the public can still participate in social movements. The essence of a social movement is that individuals and groups who are not in the power structure join together for some common cause because the only way they can have influence is through their numbers (Innes & Booher, 2000). The community together with NGOs, needs to create a coalition and unite to push for a review of this policy together with the government so that local elements such as the interests of fishermen are discussed with high attention by the government.

The community, on the other hand, should not be silent about this potential betrayal of human rights, but encourage the government to respond to these aspirations through social movements.

As such, this piece advocates for the government to conduct a review of the sea sand export policy. This review needs to involve broad public participation, including fishermen, academics, and environmental organizations. The review also needs to consider the possible ecological and social impacts, and ensure that the policy does not conflict with the right to a healthy environment.

I believe that by conducting a review of the sea sand export policy, the government can ensure that this policy is made transparently, accountable, and in favor of the public interest.

Yosua S. M. Gultom
Yosua S. M. Gultom
Yosua Saut Marulitua Gultom is a student of International Relations at Universitas Pembangunan Nasional Veteran Jakarta. He is interested in Philosophy, International Relations Theories, Foreign Policy, and Human Rights Issues.


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