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Jakarta – The Supreme Court of Indonesia last week rejected an appeal filed by President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo against a ruling that his national administration and its provincial counterpart failed to do enough to prevent the devastating forest fires which ravaged West and Central Kalimantan and many other provinces during 2015. Indonesia’s highest court reinforced the earlier ruling that several arms of government were guilty of unlawful acts resulting in environmental damage and harm to citizens   .
This latest setback to the government comes as fires are once again breaking out in Kalimantan, showing a 52% increase in the number of fire hotspots during the same period last year .
Greenpeace analysis also shows that, so far this July, Central and West Kalimantan are once again among the provinces with the highest numbers of fires hotspots , underlining how urgent it is for the government to comply with the court’s verdict.
The total fire hotspots across Indonesia were up 39% compared to the same period last year, mainly due to a three-fold increase in fire hotspots for Riau (from 906 to 2550). (Detected by MODIS satellites.)
The citizen lawsuit was brought against the government in 2016 by seven Indonesians, including Central Kalimantan resident Arie Rompas. He said:
“Every year new generations of Indonesians are exposed to fires and haze while palm and pulp companies benefit from poorly enforced laws and lack of transparency, allowing them to continue clearing forests and draining peatlands. Indonesia’s communities have had enough, they need real government leadership that is serious about putting an end to the forest fires and their health and environmental impacts, once and for all”.
Arie, who is now Forest Campaign Team Leader at Greenpeace Indonesia, argued together with his fellow plaintiffs that government precautions and response were totally inadequate in the face of recurrent forest and landscape fires which have given rise to a health crisis affecting millions.
Transparency has become a key battleground in the fight to clean up Indonesia’s plantation industry. More than two years ago, Indonesia’s Supreme Court ruled that the government should make information on palm oil concessions available to the public. However, ministers in Jokowi’s government continue to defy this decision and have recently explicitly ordered palm oil companies not to share information regarding the plantation concessions they own. The release of such data would make it significantly easier to identify who controls land where forest fires continue to occur.
Rompas continued: “‘By fighting this verdict, Jokowi is aligning with plantation companies’ interests and putting their profits above the health and environment of Indonesia”.
Nur Hidayati, National Executive Director of WALHI added:
“If President Jokowi is serious about correcting the wrongdoing of 2015 and is ready to fix forest governance, he must accept this landmark decision. Recognizing past negligence is the only way forward to protect citizens’ health and future”
Through the verdict, Jokowi and his administration have been ordered to issue and implement seven government regulations under the umbrella of existing laws including the Environment Law of 2009.
The regulations must include an assessment of environmental damage caused by fires, and a review of permits held by companies whose plantation concessions suffered fires, as a preliminary step in assessing possible criminal charges. The court also required the Government to create a roadmap for forest fire mitigation and emergency handling; and a compensation plan for fire victims, including free access to medication and the creation of specialized hospitals for handling respiratory illness and other diseases caused by smoke exposure.
 The defendants were President Joko Widodo, Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya, Minister of Agriculture Amran Sulaiman, Minister of Agrarian and Spatial Planning and head of the National Land Agency Sofyan Djalil, Minister of Health Nila F Moeloek, Governor of Central Kalimantan Sugianto Sabran, and the Central Kalimantan House of Representatives.
 The cassation decision (3555K/PDT/2018) was signed on July 16, 2019 but only recently made public by the Supreme Court.
 The district court of Palangka Raya, capital of Central Kalimantan province in Indonesian Borneo, ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in 2017, and the province’s High Court upheld the ruling on appeal by the government in September of that year.
 1165 fire hotspots from the period January – June 2019 compared to 768 fire hotspots for the same period in 2018.
 139 fire hotspots in West Kalimantan and 152 in Central Kalimantan, for the first 20 days of July.
Sol Gosetti, International Communications Coordinator, Indonesia Forest campaign, Greenpeace Southeast Asia [email protected], +44 (0) 7380845754