Jayapura, 2 November 2023 – Indigenous Awyu landholder Hendrikus Woro and the Advocacy Team to Save Papua’s Forests have voiced regret over a court’s rejection of Hendrikus’ environmental and climate change lawsuit challenging the issuance of an environmental permit for a company to clear Awyu traditional forest lands.

The decision, published today by the Jayapura State Administrative Court, is bad news for Awyu Indigenous People who are struggling to defend their customary land in Boven Digoel district, located in the remote southeastern-most corner of the Indonesian territory known as West Papua. The court upheld the environmental permit for palm oil company PT Indo Asiana Lestari (PT IAL), a part of Malaysia’s Whole Asia Group, which had previously obtained a location permit for an oil palm plantation covering a forested area of ​​39,190 hectares of Indigenous land.

“I am extremely sad and disappointed because our legal struggle appears to have been in vain. But I’ll never back down, I will carry on. I’m ready to die for the land that my ancestors bequeathed us. If the judges didn’t believe us, they should have gone out to our traditional lands to see for themselves,” said Hendrikus Woro, an environmental fighter from the Awyu tribe who filed the lawsuit. “I’m also sad because many friends have been incredibly supportive of us. They don’t own land here but they have spared time, energy and thoughts for we Indigenous People. Unfortunately the judges didn’t look at the issue and decide as fairly as possible,” Hendrikus said.

Awyu Tribe Testifies at the Jayapura State Administrative Court in Papua. © Gusti Tanati / Greenpeace
Hendrikus ‘Franky’ Woro (L) and Rikarda Wome Maa (R), from the Awyu People, leave the Jayapura State Administrative Court (PTUN) after a hearing in Jayapura, Papua on 07/09/2023. The Awyu testified at the court against the palm oil company PT Indo Asiana Lestari (PT IAL).
© Gusti Tanati / Greenpeace

During the seven month trial, Hendrikus Woro and his legal team presented 102 pieces of documentary evidence, six factual witnesses and three expert witnesses. The evidence and witnesses clearly demonstrated irregularities in the issuance of PT IAL’s permits. Company maps did not acknowledge the existence of the Woro clan; the preparation of environmental impact analysis (EIS) documents did not involve meaningful participation from Indigenous communities, and those people that rejected the palm oil company plans suffered intimidation.

In its decision however the three-judge panel declined to consider flaws in the EIS process, saying that the only object under consideration was a decree by the head of the Papua Capital Investment Service regarding the environmental feasibility permit for PT IAL. In fact, the EIS is the basis for the issuance of the permit, and therefore was clearly the crux of the matter.

“We strongly believe that the judges were wrong to give weight to a letter of investment support from the Boven Digoel Regency Indigenous Community Institution (LMA). The LMA’s formal legal status and its position under traditional Indigenous law is unclear, furthermore it does not represent the Awyu Indigenous people and the Woro clan. It does not have the right to approve the release of forests belonging to Indigenous communities. This ignores the internationally mandated principle of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) by directly affected communities,” said Tigor Hutapea, a member of the Awyu People’s legal team.

The decision also ignores the dire climate impacts if PT IAL establishes a palm oil plantation by deforesting the Awyu tribe’s customary land. Indonesia’s largest source of emissions is from land use and deforestation, yet the issuance of PT IAL’s environment permit is expected to trigger deforestation of ​​26,326 hectares of primary forest, releasing approximately 23 million tonnes of carbon dioxide – five percent of the nation’s anticipated annual carbon emissions for 2030. The panel of judges failed to understand this case as an environmental and climate change lawsuit, and failed to apply Supreme Court Regulation Number 1 of 2023 on Guidelines for Hearing Environmental Cases.

“We are disappointed with the judges’ decision and will continue the fight until we win, to uphold the rights of Indigenous Peoples and to save Papua’s forests from massive destruction and the worsening climate crisis. This is an odd decision in that the judges not only did not side with Indigenous landowners and the environment, but also seemed to ignore many of the facts brought to court,” said Sekar Banjaran Aji, a member of the Awyu People’s legal team.

Another member of the Awyu’s legal team, Emanuel Gobay of the Papua Legal Aid Institute added: “We will appeal, because this concerns the rights of Papuan Indigenous People which have been ignored and violated. We will also follow legal channels to evaluate the attitude of the judges in deciding this case. Although one of the three judges has certification in environmental adjudication, it turned out that the considerations in this case were not in accordance with the principles of environmental law. This can be seen, for example, in the failure to consider the substance of the problematic EIA, and the rejection of our request for the court to make a field inspection.”

During the trial, a torrent of support poured in for the Awyu tribe. Various parties sent amicus curiae submissions, ranging from the National Human Rights Commission, the Indonesian Caucus for Academic Freedom (KIKA), climate litigation expert I Gede Agung Made Wardana, the Djojodigoeno Centre for Customary Law Studies, the Village Coalition for Papuan Democracy, and Greenpeace Indonesia. 

The Solidarity Movement for the Protection of Papua’s Indigenous Forests, supported by 258 civil society organisations, academics, and individuals from various regions and countries, including the Ka’apor Indigenous People of Brazil, drafted an open letter and submitted it to the Jayapura Administrative Court, the Judicial Commission, the Supreme Court, and the National Human Rights Commission. It implored the panel of judges to adhere to the in dubio pro natura principle (when in doubt, favour the environment), for the protection of Papua’s forests, which are the foundation of life for Papuan Indigenous People.

Coalition to Save Papuan Customary Forests

Association for Defenders of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago (PPMAN), Pusaka Bentala Rakyat Papua, Greenpeace Indonesia, Satya Bumi, LBH Papua, Walhi Papua, Eknas Walhi, PILNet Indonesia, Institute for Community Studies and Advocacy (Elsam), Indonesian Human Relations Association

Photo collection:

See documentation of the Awyu tribe’s case here https://media.greenpeace.org/Share/qp1542vk11pn0p024gks821n3302td5w 

Media Contacts:

Sekar Banjaran Aji, Greenpeace Indonesia,+62-812-8776-9880
Tigor Hutapea, Bentala People’s Heritage Foundation,+62-812-8729-6684Emanuel Gobay, LBH Papua, +62-821-9950-7613
Igor O’Neill, Greenpeace Indonesia, [email protected] +61-414-288-424