Yesterday, a court in Banda Aceh, Indonesia threw out a case against palm oil company, PT Kallista Alam. The court case was brought by WALHI in November 2011. It took five months for the court to rule that WALHI should have attempted to mediate with the company before filing the case.
It’s an extraordinary ruling. “If this legal challenge had no legal basis, then why wasn’t it rejected at the beginning?” T.Muhammad Zulfikar, Director of WALHI Aceh, points out.
The court case was about a 1,605 hectare concession. Irwandi Yusuf, governor of Aceh, signed a permit for the palm oil concession in August 2011. The area of the concession was covered by the moratorium on new forest concessions, until the area of the concession was removed from the first revision of the moratorium maps. The land is deep peat, which is protected from conversion. It is part of the Leuser Ecosystem, which is protected. Clearing the forest is in breach of the logging moratorium in Aceh.
But when WALHI brought a court case about the clearing of the forest in the Tripa peatswamp, they were told that they should have sought mediation with the company. The decision makes a complete nonsense of the rule of law.
WALHI will appeal the decision. WALHI’s Zulkifar says,
“There is no doubt we will be appealing this appalling decision. The longer we wait, the worse the situation is getting in Tripa. The judge clearly does not understand the process of law.”
Meanwhile, the forests of Tripa are disappearing fast. In recent days, the companies set a series of fires. Canals to drain the peatswamps make the danger of fires more serious. A press release from the Coalition to Save Tripa Peat Forest describes the current situation:
“While the court case has dragged on in Banda Aceh, the peat forests of Tripa have continued to suffer widespread damage. An illegally dug canal in the contested concession continues to drain the swamp of its water increasing the fire danger in the protected area. Over the last weeks this has escalated with huge man made fires tearing through Tripa for 9 days, making headlines worldwide, with experts warning the local orangutan population could become extinct before the end of the year.”
Of course the company, PT Kallista Alam welcomed the court’s decision. The company’s attorney said that,
“The verdict is correct. We do not harm the environment by clearing forests for oil palm plantations.”
There are currently three online petitions and one action alert about the Tripa peatswamp:
Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, head of the REDD+ Task Force, said in December 2011 that,
“signing an agreement with a palm oil company to allow the conversion of protected peat land into palm oil plantations, very clearly breaks the moratorium.”
Also in December 2011, Hadi Daryanto, the secretary-general of the Ministry of Forestry, Hadi Daryanto, said that,
“It’s clearly a violation because the area in question is a peat forest. On the moratorium map it’s clearly marked out as protected, but in the revision that followed, it was somehow excluded. That exclusion in itself is also a violation because it occurred after the moratorium went into effect.”
WALHI’s National Executive Director, Berry Nahdian Forqan, commented,
“If I was a Norwegian tax payer, I would be asking my government why my taxes are going to country that is not keeping its side of the bargain!”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Irwandi Yusuf, the governor of Aceh, told the Sydney Morning Herald that Irwandi would “sit down and talk” with the complainants. But only if they don’t appeal the court’s ruling. “I think this is what the court wants, that we have mediation. But if they want to appeal, we have to go through the court procedure first,” Irwandi’s spokesperson said.