Land Back: Supreme Court Ceremonial Venue for Papuan Indigenous Peoples Fighting Palm Oil Companies

Press Release from the Coalition to Save Papuan Customary Forests

Jakarta, 27 May 2024 – Indigenous activists from the Awyu and Moi Peoples of Tanah Papua today employed traditional ceremonies to call on Indonesia’s Supreme Court to protect their traditional land and forests from destruction for palm oil plantations. Wearing traditional attire, they held prayers, rituals and performed dances in front of the Supreme Court building in Jakarta, and also brought a piece of their homelands as a symbol to hand over to the court.

The Supreme Court is currently reviewing cassation appeals in relation to efforts to revoke permits for four palm oil companies in Boven Digoel and Sorong districts, which threaten Awyu and Moi customary forests respectively, affecting a total area exceeding half the extent of Jakarta province.

“We have taken the long, difficult and expensive path from Tanah Papua to end up here in Indonesia’s capital Jakarta, asking the Supreme Court to restore our rights, and the land that was snatched from us when these palm oil companies were issued permits over it,” said Awyu Indigenous man, Hendrikus ‘Franky’ Woro.

Franky Woro filed an environmental and land rights lawsuit challenging the plan by a Malaysian-owned palm oil company to clear tens of thousands of hectares of West Papuan forest. The lawsuit at the Jayapura State Administrative Court called for the revocation of an environmental permit issued by the Papua provincial government to PT Indo Asiana Lestari (PT IAL) covering traditional Indigenous land of which Franky Woro is joint owner. The potential emissions if the company goes ahead to clear the 26,326 hectares of primary forest in its concession is approximately 23 million tonnes of CO2. This would be equivalent to five percent of Indonesia’s annual carbon emissions expected in 2030.

However, Hendrikus’ lawsuit against PT IAL was rejected in the first and second instance courts. Meanwhile, the Awyu had also intervened in a lawsuits taken by two more palm oil companies, PT Kartika Cipta Pratama and PT Megakarya Jaya Raya against a decision by the Minister of Environment and Forestry to cancel permits that it had issued over Indigenous lands. The revocation has the potential to save 65,415 hectares of pristine rainforest, six times the area of the city of Paris. Unfortunately while the Awyu won during the first round of these two cases which were heard jointly in Jakarta Administrative Court, the companies appealed to a higher administrative court (PTTUN Jakarta) which overturned the decision.

Now, cassation in the Supreme Court over all three cases is the Awyu’s last remaining legal strategy to defend the customary forest which has been the ancestral heritage and livelihood of the Woro clan for generations. “We have been tormented for years by the threat of our traditional forests being replaced by palm oil plantations. We want to raise our children with the help of nature, and the food and materials we harvest from the forest. Palm oil will destroy our forests, we reject it,” said Rikarda Maa, an Awyu Indigenous woman.

Similarly, members of the Moi Indigenous People are fighting to protect 18,160 hectares of customary forest in Sorong district that is earmarked for an industrial plantation. Palm oil company PT Sorong Agro Sawitindo previously held a concession of around 40 thousand hectares, but in the face of community opposition, in 2021 the district head revoked the company’s business and environmental permits. Unfortunately this was overturned in a local court, but then in 2022 the central government followed the district’s lead by revoking PT SAS’s forest estate release permit. This revocation was challenged by the company in the Jakarta Administrative Court, where representatives of the Moi (Sigin) People made an intervention as interested parties in late 2023. The court initially found in favour of the palm oil company, but members of the Moi community filed an appeal to the Supreme Court on May 3, 2024.

“I urge the Supreme Court to provide justice for us Indigenous Peoples. Our customary forest is where we hunt and gather sago; the forest is a pharmacy for us; all our needs are met by the forest. The threat hanging over us from this company PT SAS is very destructive to us. If our traditional forests disappear, where else will we go?” said Fiktor Klafiu, a representative of the Moi Sigin Indigenous community who participated in the above legal action.

The permits issued to these four palm oil companies will enable the destruction of forests which are a source of livelihoods, food, water, medicine, culture and knowledge for the Awyu and Moi Indigenous Peoples. Their forests are also vital habitat for endemic New Guinean flora and fauna, as well as storing massive stocks of carbon.

“We ask the Supreme Court justices to deliberate deeply over the lawsuits filed by the Awyu and Moi Peoples, taking into serious consideration both the inalienable rights of Indigenous Peoples and the public interest in environmental protection. If they do so we trust they will issue a decision in favour of the Awyu and Moi landowners. The judicial panel needs to prioritise aspects of the case that relate to environmental and climate justice, the impact of which will not only be felt by the Awyu and Moi but the entirety of the Indonesian people,” said Tigor Hutapea, a member of the legal team from Pusaka Bentala Rakyat.

“The legal struggle of the Awyu and Moi Peoples is an honourable effort for the sake of their customary forests, for the lives of their children and grandchildren, and indirectly for the sake of all of us. We invite the public to support the struggle of the Awyu and Moi and speak out about saving Papua’s forests, our stronghold in facing the climate crisis,” said Sekar Banjaran Aji, forest campaigner for Greenpeace Indonesia.

Notes:

  1. Photos and videos are available of the ceremonies and demonstration at the Supreme Court.
  2. Timeline of Awyu Indigenous People’s legal action:

March 13, 2023 – Awyu People file environment permit lawsuit at Jayapura State Administrative Court calling for the revocation of a permit issued to PT Indo Asiana Lestari covering traditional Indigenous land.

May 9, 2023 – Awyu People appear in Jakarta court, officially intervening in legal proceedings taken by two additional palm oil companies over Awyu customary land (PT Megakarya Jaya Raya and PT Kartika Cipta Pratama).

July 6, 2023 – Barrage of land rights evidence presented in Jayapura: Awyu People present over 50 documents in their legal fight to reclaim tens of thousands of hectares from PT Indo Asiana Lestari.

July 27, 2023 – Awyu witnesses tell of intimidation, expert sets out traditional land rights mapping work as initial case hearings continue in Jayapura State Administrative Court.

August 10, 2023 – Jayapura Court hears womens’ representative give evidence of her people’s forestland management practices, and her fear that destroying the forest to make way for a corporate plantation will impact Awyu women above all others.

September 6, 2023 – Awyu celebrate successful intervention in Jakarta Administrative Court, as judges uphold cancellation of permits issued to PT Kartika Cipta Pratama and PT Megakarya Jaya Raya over Awyu land.

November 2, 2023 – Setback as primary court case fails in Jayapura State Administrative Court. Awyu lodge an appeal to a higher court shortly afterwards.

February 6, 2024 – Further setback as the Jakarta State Administrative High Court reverses the lower court’s decision regarding permits for PT Kartika Cipta Pratama and PT Megakarya Jaya Raya. Alongside the government, the Awyu lodge a cassation appeal to the Supreme Court.

March 1, 2024 – The Awyu People’s appeal against the Jayapura decision is rejected by Manado State Administrative High Court. They also file a cassation appeal with the Supreme Court over this case.

 

Coalition to Save Papuan Traditional Forests

Association for Defenders of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago (Perhimpunan Pembela Masyarakat Adat Nusantara), Pusaka Bentala Rakyat Papua, Greenpeace Indonesia, Satya Bumi, LBH Papua, Walhi Papua, Eknas Walhi, PILNet Indonesia, Lembaga Studi dan Advokasi Masyarakat, Perkumpulan HuMa Indonesia

Media Contacts:

Igor O’Neill, Greenpeace Indonesia, [email protected] +61-414-288-424

Tigor Gemdita Hutapea, Pusaka Foundation +62 812-8729-6684

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