in Indonesia, Norway

Aceh court rejects court case against forest clearing in Tripa peatswamp

Aceh court rejects court case against forest clearing in Tripa peatswamp

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.

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  1. “We do not harm the environment by clearing forests for oil palm plantations”
    spoken like a real __________________

  2. @nelly avila (#1) – I know, I couldn’t believe that he would say that. But people I’ve discussed this with here in Indonesia are less surprised – that’s more or less what palm oil companies write every time they carry out an environmental impact assessment.

  3. Well here we go again….and what do you really expect. You could have the UN forces attached to support the legal agreements but the Palm Oil companies would have their militia there too…Its all about money in its direct availability to be used in a situation when local communities in many cases do not realise they are sitting on a “gold mine of carbon and biodiversity”…..But will the global institutions who realise this know what to do….Maybe a sneak preview of my SEEBif Initiative may help….but it would put out a lot of so called conservationists who literally thrive on the current human and ecological devastation.

    The only way to stop such actions and I am very surprised that Greenpeace International have not done so but to boycott oil palm….yes I know a horrible word…but it has worked (somewhat) with elephants and dolphins….why oh why not for our pimate relatives….and not just Orangutangs (many other gibbon species too)…..But do we have the wit to declare such intentions ….I hope so but I doubt it…..

  4. I’m not surprised by the court decision at all since Indonesia rated extremely poorly in the last Corruption Perceptions Index list. With a country that has high rates of bribery in the government, police and private sector and the government itself often giving legal rights and concessions containing vast areas of ecologically important forest to oil palm and pulp & paper corporations for them to plunge and destroy for plantations in a matter of months, what do you really expect?

  5. Further to the comment of Genus Animaus above, it is unlikely that the current SVLK (Timber Legality Assurance Scheme) which Indonesia has designed and is supposed to be implementing – and which forms the basis for the prospective Voluntary Partnership Agreement with the European Union – will take these rather obvious illegalities into account.

    Implicitly, importing countries’ legislation will facilitate the laundering of illegal wood, pulp and paper from Indonesia. There have been no cases under the Lacey Act alleging corrupt designation or allocation of concessions for logging or clearance. It is unlikely that the European Commission or Competent Authorities in EU Member States will provide explicit guidance in relation to such illegalities under the EU’s Regulation 995/2010. It would seem that we prefer to bury our heads in the sand. However, doing so might be pragmatic.

  6. Very disappointing. I know Irwandi – in fact he worked with me as my assistant when I first worked in Aceh in 2002, before he came forward as being a senior figure in the GAM rebel movement. He was very strong on social rights at the time but obviously environment is not such a priority. As well, I know the Leuser, and to see such a precious place as this being sold to palm oil production is truly depressing. As to the comment on palm oil plantations not harming the environment… Words fail me.

  7. The indonesian government should step in and stop this, but then again maybee they are corrupt and the rest of the world is watching and judging the Indonesian government. This will seriously affect tourism in Indonesia and I for one will stop using products with palm oil. Lets all band together around the world and stop using products with palm oil from Indonesia. It can only work if YOU make the effort. One person is not enough, we need to make this go viral and help the rare animals and plants and local villagers that make up the forests of Indonesia.