Jayapura & Jakarta, 23 Nov. 2021 – NGOs are stepping up calls for Indonesia’s national government to show support for Indigenous rights in West Papua as a landmark court case enters its final week of hearings. The Jayapura Administrative Court is scheduled to conclude hearings on Thursday in the case which involves three palm oil companies in Sorong regency, West Papua Province fighting to overturn the cancellation of permits which had allowed them to convert forest areas into plantations, in the face of opposition by Indigenous landowners.
“Indigenous peoples’ organisations, the Sorong regency government and national NGOs have all taken a stand to rescue these Indigenous forest lands from conversion for palm oil production. These permit revocations are the only concrete outcome so far from President Jokowi’s palm oil moratorium and permit review process,” said Wirya Supriyadi, Advocacy Coordinator at WALHI Papua. “But when the chips are down, Jakarta is silent on the case, allowing cashed-up companies to take a bullying court case to retain control of Indigenous lands they were never morally entitled to,” said Wirya.
Years of Indigenous peoples’ complaints about plantation industry land-grabbing in West Papua province, and concerns about the vast area of tropical rainforest slated for clearing, lead the provincial government to undertake a review of oil palm plantation permits, recommending in February this year that over a dozen plantation concessions be revoked, and the forest areas be returned for sustainable management by their Indigenous owners. The head of Sorong district, Johny Kamuru went ahead and revoked the recommended permits, but three of the companies affected, PT. Inti Kebun Lestari, PT Papua Lestari Abadi, and PT Sorong Agro Sawitindo are suing Kamuru and the head of Sorong’s investment agency in Jayapura Administrative Court to reverse the decision.
The palm oil permit review process falls under a mandate provided by Indonesian President Joko Widodo in 2018, administered by the Coordinating Ministry for Economic Affairs and the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. Yet neither ministry has made public comment, formal representations or provided expert evidence to support Sorong district’s permit revocations.
The valuable forested land claimed by the three companies covers 90,031 hectares, an area larger than New York City. Greenpeace Indonesia’s Papua Forests Campaigner Nico Wamafma said “Considering the influence of power and money in the justice system, and the importance of this case for Indigenous rights in West Papua, a coalition of NGOs has requested the national Judicial Commission to monitor proceedings.”
On 18 November a joint public interest amicus curiae (‘friend of the court’) brief was lodged by the Sorong chapter of the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), the Papua office of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI), Pusaka Foundation, and Greenpeace Indonesia. Pusaka Foundation’s Tigor Hutapea said “In our submission, we asked the court to appreciate the wider implications of this case. This is not a commercial dispute about permits. It is about the public interest in protecting Indigenous land rights, biodiversity and environmental sustainability in Papua.” AMAN’s Fecky Mobalen added: “In the amicus curiae brief we called on the court to respect publicly stated Indigenous opposition, and provide justice in recognition that permits were issued without their consent.”
 See Joint Press Release by Papua Barat Province and Corruption Eradication Commission
 Presidential Instruction 8/2018 Concerning Postponement And Evaluation Of Oil Palm Plantation Licenses And Increasing Productivity Of Oil Palm Plantations.
 Submission (available on request) dated 22 Sep 2021 received by Judicial Commission (Komisi Yudisial) with ref. no. 1092/X/2021/S.
 Link to amicus curiae brief
 Greenpeace Indonesia in collaboration with Watchdoc will release a movie about deforestation in Papua later this month, watch the teaser here
Photos & map:
- Location map
- Indigenous Moi people demonstrate in front of the Sorong district government office in support of the Sorong district head, who is being sued by palm oil companies after his decision to uphold Indigenous land rights (Photo 1 and Photo 2, credit: AMAN Sorong)
- Indigenous Moi men and women protest on International Indigenous Peoples Day August 9, 2020, in front of the Sorong district government office, calling for the cancellation of palm oil permits over their ancestral lands. Credit: Natalia Laurensia Carmelia Yewen / Mongabay Indonesia.
- Igor O’Neill, Greenpeace Indonesia Forests Campaign. [email protected] +61-414-288-424
- Tigor Hutapea, Pusaka Foundation: +62-812-8729-6684
- Fecky Mobalen, Sorong chapter of the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN): +62 822-4863-6709
- Wirya Supriyadi, Advocacy Coordinator at WALHI Papua: +62-812-1858-508