Jakarta, 6 September 2023 — Awyu Indigenous landowners and environmentalists have welcomed the Jakarta Administrative Court decision announced yesterday to reject a lawsuit taken by two palm oil companies, PT Kartika Cipta Pratama and PT Megakarya Jaya Raya, against a decision by the Minister of Environment and Forestry.
This verdict has the potential to save 65,415 hectares of pristine rainforest, six times the area of the city of Paris. After this decision, the two companies will not be legally permitted to continue deforestation beyond the 8,828 hectares of Indigenous forestland that has already been cleared for palm oil plantations.
“This is the decision we’ve been waiting for. Enough is enough, companies must stop destroying forests and customary lands. What else do these companies want to do to our customary land? Obey this decision and let us take care of our Indigenous land ourselves. Hopefully with this lawsuit, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry will know that the companies have no good intentions, and will immediately revoke permits for PT KCP and PT MJR. Our hope is that we can resume control of our customary forest, so we can manage it for future descendants of the Awyu tribe,” said Gergorius Yame, one of the six members of the Awyu People who undertook a legal intervention in the court case.
PT MJR and PT KCP, located in one contiguous block in the new province of South Papua, registered their lawsuits with the Jakarta court earlier this year on March 10 and March 15. Through their lawsuits, which were handled together by the court, the two companies aimed to overturn a decree by the Minister for Environment and Forestry regarding state forest release permits, which, among other things, required the companies to refrain from further clearing of forested land for oil palm plantations.
Gergorius Yame and five other Indigenous Awyu people registered as intervening parties in the lawsuit on May 9, 2023. During hearings the Awyu people and their legal team presented evidence, witnesses, and experts in support of their land rights and to support the Minister of Environment and Forestry in rebutting the case by the two palm oil companies.
“By throwing their weight behind the Environment Ministry’s case, the Awyu Indigenous landowners and their legal team have assisted the government to secure this crucial win. Now it’s time for Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya herself to work with government colleagues both national and local to fast track full legal recognition for the Awyu’s land rights, which have existed since time immemorial. The Awyu are best placed to continue to protect and manage their own forest, and have the right to determine their own livelihoods and future,” said Sekar Banjaran Aji, a member of the Awyu community’s legal team.
The legal intervention arises from the struggle by West Papua’s Indigenous peoples to defend their customary forests from land grabbing by plantation companies, the scale of which is documented in a recent Greenpeace International report. Further litigation is also underway in the Jayapura Administrative Court: on March 13, Hendrikus ‘Franky’ Woro, an environmentalist and leader of the Woro clan of the Awyu People, challenged an environmental permit issued by the Papua Provincial government for another palm oil company, PT Indo Asiana Lestari. Hearings are still underway in that case.
“It’s rare that we have something to celebrate like today’s news. We hope there will be more good news from the environmental and climate change lawsuit being heard in Jayapura. Hopefully we will win again in the Jayapura court,” said Hendrikus Woro.
A member of the legal team for the Awyu, Tigor Gemdita Hutapea added that these lawsuits demonstrate the pressing need for the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to immediately recognize Indigenous land rights over forest lands.
“Recognition of customary forests is very important to keep Indigenous communities from conflict with companies overrunning their land and livelihoods. The Ministry of Environment and Forestry should learn from the outcome of this case that Tanah Papua is not ‘empty land’. There is no reason to delay any longer, immediately recognize customary forests!,” Tigor said.
The Coalition to Save Papua’s Indigenous Forests
Perhimpunan Pembela Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (PPMAN), Pusaka Bentala Rakyat Papua, Greenpeace Indonesia, Satya Bumi, LBH Papua, Walhi Papua, Eknas Walhi, PILNet Indonesia, Lembaga Studi dan Advokasi Masyarakat (Elsam), Perkumpulan HuMa Indonesia
Notes to editors:
Lawsuits by PT Kartika Cipta Pratama and PT Megakarya Jaya Raya were registered with case numbers 82/G/2023/PTUN.JKT and 87/G/2023/PTUN.JKT.
Sekar Banjaran Aji, Greenpeace Indonesia,+62 812-8776-9880
Tigor Gemdita Hutapea, Pusaka Foundation +62 812-8729-6684
Igor O’Neill, Greenpeace Indonesia, [email protected] +61 414-288-424