Indonesian activist wins Goldman Prize for fighting palm oil, deforestation

Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
April 28, 2014

Rudi Putra, photo courtesy of Goldman Prize

Rudi Putra, photo courtesy of Goldman Prize

An Indonesian has won the world’s most prestigious award for environmental activism for his efforts to fight illegal logging, forest encroachment for palm oil production, and a policy that would open up vast swathes of an endangered ecosystem for mining and industrial plantations. 

Rudi Putra, a biologist who works in Sumatra’s Aceh Province, was on Monday honored with the $175,000 Goldman Environmental Prize. Putra was selected as the “Islands and Island Nations” winner. 

Putra was recognized for his campaign to dismantle illegal oil palm plantations within Sumatra’s Leuser Ecosystem, a habitat for critically endangered orangutans, tigers, rhinos, and elephants, as well as his activism around a plan to remove protected status for vast areas of forest across Aceh. That activism culminated in 2013 with a petition asking the Indonesian government to enforce conservation laws and reject Aceh’s proposal. The petition was signed more than 1.4 million times, catalyzing broader awareness of the issue and sparking intense international outcry. 

The Goldman Environmental Foundation highlighted Putra’s effort to restore wildlife corridors in areas that were once illegal oil palm plantations.

      With support from local communities, Putra approached local police directly to enforce land protection laws and shut down illegal palm oil plantations. He spoke of the hundreds of thousands of families who lost their homes and loved ones during the 2006 Aceh floods and their struggles to access clean drinking water.
      He also approached palm oil plantation owners and reminded them that their actions were against the law. After Putra showed them the boundaries marking conservation areas, some owners voluntarily shut down the plantations and gave the land back to the government so that Putra and his colleagues could conduct restoration work.
    Putra’s sustained outreach and strategic negotiations, deploying carrots and sticks when necessary, resulted in the dismantling of more than 1,200 acres of illegal plantations in the Leuser Ecosystem. The rehabilitation of these forests after the clearance of the oil palm has recreated a critical wildlife corridor now used by elephants, tigers and orangutans for the first time in 12 years. The Sumatran rhino population in the Leuser Ecosystem has also inched up in the past decade.

Ian Singleton, an orangutan conservationist who has worked with Putra for years, agreed that the activist has had an outsized impact. 

“He has always struck me as one of the most focused and dedicated Indonesian conservationists I have ever met,” Singleton told Mongabay.com. “He is certainly not one to make a song and dance of things, and instead keeps a low profile, plugging away at an issue until eventually his hard work pays off.” 

“Rudi is a leading member of a large team of various players working hard to halt a devastating new spatial plan in the province of Aceh, Sumatra, which would destroy huge tracts of the Leuser Ecosystem and spell the death knell for its remaining elephants and rhinos, and possibly orangutans and tigers as well. This battle is far from won, but without people like Rudi taking part it would be a far harder battle to win.” 

Rudi Putra watching an oil palm tree being cut down in Aceh. Photo courtesy of the Goldman Prize.

Rudi Putra watching an oil palm tree being cut down in Aceh. Photo courtesy of the Goldman Prize.

Due to criticism, Aceh’s spatial plan revision as originally proposed is now in limbo. The central government in Jakarta and the Aceh government have yet to come to an agreement that would allow the plan to proceed, buying environmentalists more time to make a case for protecting the province’s endangered forests. Putra is hopeful the Goldman Prize will now boost help that effort. 

“The government has failed to do enough to stop forest conversion for oil palm — large areas of forest are not covered by the moratorium,” he told Mongabay.com. “It has also failed to stop encroachment, illegal logging, and mining inside conservation areas.” 

“This fight is far from over but the Goldman Prize will help.” 

 

Update petisi: DUKUNGAN MENDESAK DIPERLUKAN UNTUK PENYELAMATAN ORANGUTAN DI KAWASAN EKOSISTEM LEUSER!

DUKUNGAN MENDESAK DIPERLUKAN UNTUK PENYELAMATAN ORANGUTAN DI KAWASAN EKOSISTEM LEUSER!

Dear Teman – teman pelindung hutan Aceh,

Saya menulis untuk berterima kasih atas bantuan Anda dalam kampanye penjagaan Kawasan Ekosistem Leuser dan meminta anda untuk mendukung petisi kami yang baru dan mendesak. Tolong tanda tangani dan sebarkan hari ini!

http://www.change.org/en-AU/petitions/president-susilo-bambang-yudhoyono-cancel-aceh-s-illegal-spatial-plan

Tahun lalu Anda telah menciptakan gelombang protes publik terhadap pengrusakan hutan rawa gambut Tripa di Kawasan Ekosistem Leuser. Pada saat yang sama Indonesia dibanjiri dengan pesan positif dari para pendukung, ilmuwan dan ekonom di seluruh dunia bahwa Ekosistem Leuser layak pengakuan penuh sebagai Kasawan Warisan Dunia UNESCO Site (1) .

Berkat dukungan Anda, akhirnya kemenangan besar dapat dicapai. Pada bulan Januari, ketika salah satu perusahaan kelapa sawit illegal yang membakar hutan di Tripa dituntut dan didenda sampai dengan lebih dari US $ 30 juta. Ini adalah keputusan bersejarah di Indonesia dan menetapkan preseden penting bagi masa depan penegakan hukum untuk melindungi hutan-hutan di Indonesia (2).

Sayangnya preseden ini mungkin perlu diuji dalam waktu dekat. Parlemen Aceh baru – baru ini mengesahkan rencana tata ruang Aceh, yang sepenuhnya mengabaikan status perlindungan Kawasan Ekosistem Leuser, melanggar peraturan yang lebih tinggi dan membuka pintu untuk perkebunan kelapa sawit, pembalakan, pertambangan dan pembangunan jalan di dalam Kawasan Ekosistem Leuser. Jika pemerintah pusat Indonesia tidak menganulir rencana tata ruang ilegal ini maka kita akan menghadapi pertempuran di ranah hukum tidak hanya untuk hutan rawa gambut Tripa tetapi untuk seluruh 2,2 juta hektar Kawasan Ekosistem Leuser yang terletak di Aceh .

Jika Presiden SBY membiarkan rencana tata ruang ini disahkan begitu saja, hutan Kawasan Ekosistem Leuser yang megah dan kaya akan hancur dalam waktu singkat.

Tapi ada kesempatan untuk membalikkan keadaan sebelum kehancuran Kawasan Ekosistem Leuser semakin parah.

Kementrian dalam negeri Indonesia telah mengajukan evaluasi perda/qanun yang kuat dan menyeluruh, meminta pemerintahan Aceh untuk merevisi perda tata ruang dan memasukkan perlindungan Kawasan Ekosistem Leuser, sesuai amanah undang – undang.  Di saat yang bersamaan, sekarang juga waktu pemilihan umum di Indonesia; Presiden SBY akan lebih memilih untuk meninggalkan warisan perlindungan lingkungan dan pembangunan berkelanjutan daripada dikenang sebagai presiden yang mengizinkan penghancuran hutan hujan tropis paling signifikan yang tersisa di Asia Tenggara.

Kami baru saja mendapat kabar bahwa Parlemen Aceh mengabaikan permintaan pemerintah pusat untuk merevisi perda tata ruang dan memilih untuk melanjutkan rencana konversi hutan besar-besaran. Oleh karena itu Presiden SBY harus segera membatalkan perda ini demi hukum, atau kita menghadapi ancaman kepunahan orangutan Sumatran, badak, gajah dan harimau selama-lamanya.

Jika cukup dari kita menunjukkan dukungan untuk membatalkan perda tata ruang Aceh yang ilegal secara hokum ini, perda tersebut tidak bisa disahkan begitu saja secara diam-diam.

Kami telah memiliki umpan balik positif pada petisi dari para pemangku kepentingan dan itu adalah bagian dari strategi yang lebih luas , tetapi untuk memastikan kita dapat mencapai tujuan kami untuk melindungi dan mengembalikan Ekosistem Leuser , kita benar-benar membutuhkan kemarahan global. Silakan masuk dan berbagi link secara luas . Saya terima kasih sebelumnya .

http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2013/12/27/your-letters-open-letter-aceh-governor.html

http://news.mongabay.com/2014/0109-aceh-tripa-court-decision.html

 

BAGAIMANA ANDA BISA MEMBANTU :

1. Sebarkan permohonan ini melalui setiap jaringan media sosial yang Anda miliki : http://www.change.org/en-AU/petitions/president-susilo-bambang-yudhoyono-cancel-aceh-s-illegal-spatial-plan

2. Tweet berita ini (tag Presiden Indonesia Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono dan Menteri Dalam Negeri di Indonesia, Mr Gamawan Fauzi) dengan tag masing-masing : @presidenSBY , @GamawanFauzi

Beberapa tweet yang dapat digunakan :

Selamatkan tempat terakhir di bumi untuk orangutan Sumatera , badak , gajah dan harimau http://chn.ge/1gK1VOb @presidenSBY & @GamawanFauzi

Indonesia harus mengambil keputusan yang bijaksana terhadap Qanun RTRW Aceh http://chn.ge/1gK1VOb @presidenSBY & @GamawanFauzi

Mendorong Pemerintah Indonesia untuk membatalkan rencana tata ruang Aceh dan melindungi Leuser Ecosytem http://chn.ge/1gK1VOb @presidenSBY & @GamawanFauzi

Qanun RTRW Aceh melanggar peraturan Nasional. Menyerukan Pemerintah Pusat untuk melindungi Leuser ! http://chn.ge/1gK1VOb @SBYudhoyono & @GamawanFauzi

Peraturan telah diabaikan dan suara publik dilupakan. @presidenSBY & @GamawanFauzi tolong batalkan Qanun RTRW Aceh http://chn.ge/1gK1VOb

Selamatkan masyarakat Aceh dari banjir bandang. @ presidenSBY & @GamawanFauzi dapat membatalkan rencana tata ruang http://chn.ge/1gK1VOb

Batalkan Qanun RTRW Aceh atau orangutan sumatera & badak akan mengalami kepunahan http://chn.ge/1gK1VOb @presidenSBY & @GamawanFauzi

Kawasan Ekosistem Leuser melindungi masyarakat dari banjir yang mematikan. SBY, batalkan Qanun RTRW Aceh http://chn.ge/1gK1VOb @ presidenSBY , @ GamawanFauzi

Terima kasih yang tulus dan tak terhingga untuk semua dukungan Anda dalam mendorong perlindungan Kawasan Ekosistem Leuser #TheLastPlaceOnEarth

Petition updates: URGENT SUPPORT NEEDED TO SAVE THE ORANGUTANS OF THE LEUSER ECOSYSTEM!

Dear Friends of Aceh’s Forests,

I’m writing to thank you for your continued help in safeguarding the Leuser Ecosystem and to ask you to support our new urgent petition. Please sign and share today!

http://www.change.org/en-AU/petitions/president-susilo-bambang-yudhoyono-cancel-aceh-s-illegal-spatial-plan

Last year you helped create a wave of public protest against the destruction of the Tripa peat swamp forests in the Leuser Ecosystem. At the same time Indonesia was inundated with the positive message from supporters, scientists and economists all around the world that the Leuser Ecosystem deserves full recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (1).

Thanks to your continued support, we finally saw a major win in January when one of the palm oil companies illegally burning Tripa was prosecuted and received fines and reparation costs of over US$30 million. This was a historic ruling in Indonesia and sets a crucial precedent for future legal battles to protect Indonesia’s forests (2).

Unfortunately this precedent may need to be relied upon sooner rather than later. The Aceh Parliament recently passed a spatial plan by-law that entirely ignores the protected status of the entire Leuser Ecosystem in order to open it up for palm oil, logging, mining and roads. If Indonesia’s central government does not cancel this illegal spatial plan then we will be facing a legal battle not only for Tripa peat swamp forests but for the entire 2.2 million hectares of the Leuser Ecosystem that lies within Aceh.

If President SBY allows this spatial plan by-law to go through, the vast magnificent forests of the Leuser Ecosystem will be destroyed.

But there is a chance to turn things around before the fires are lit in the Leuser Ecosystem.

The Indonesian Ministry of Domestic affairs has submitted a strong evaluation of the by-law and asked Aceh to revise it so that it protects the Leuser Ecosystem. Now is also election time in Indonesia, and the current Indonesian president would prefer to leave a legacy of progress in environmental protection and sustainable development than to be remembered as the president who allowed the destruction of the most significant tropical rainforest remnant in Southeast Asia.

We’ve just learnt that the Aceh Parliament plans to ignore the central government’s request for revisions and go ahead with the forest conversion. Therefore President SBY must cancel the by-law now otherwise we face the very real threat of losing Sumatran orangutans, rhinos, elephants and tigers for good. 

If enough of us show our support for the cancellation of this illegal Aceh by-law, it cannot be allowed to just pass quietly through.

We have already had positive feedback on the petition from stakeholders and it is part of a much broader strategy, but to ensure we can achieve our goal to protect and restore the Leuser Ecosystem, we really need a global outrage. Please sign and share the link widely. I thank you in advance.

http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2013/12/27/your-letters-open-letter-aceh-governor.html

http://news.mongabay.com/2014/0109-aceh-tripa-court-decision.html

HOW YOU CAN HELP:

1.   Share the petition through every social media network you have: http://www.change.org/en-AU/petitions/president-susilo-bambang-yudhoyono-cancel-aceh-s-illegal-spatial-plan

2. Tweet this news (tag Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Indonesia’s Domestic Affairs Minister (Mr Gamawan Fauzi) with the respective tags: @presidenSBY, @GamawanFauzi

Some suggested tweets:

Save the last place on Earth for Sumatran orangutans, rhinos, elephants and tigers http://chn.ge/1gK1VOb @presidenSBY, @GamawanFauzi

Indonesia pls stand by wise decision on spatial plan for the sake of Aceh’s forest http://chn.ge/1gK1VOb @presidenSBY, @GamawanFauzi

Encourage the Indonesian Govt to cancel Aceh’s spatial plan and protect the Leuser Ecosytem http://chn.ge/1gK1VOb@presidenSBY, @GamawanFauzi

The spatial plan violates National Law. Call on Jakarta Central Govt to protect Leuser! http://chn.ge/1gK1VOb @SBYudhoyono, @GamawanFauzi

The law has been broken and Aceh’s people ignored. SBY please reject Aceh’s spatial plan http://chn.ge/1gK1VOb@presidenSBY, @GamawanFauzi

Save Aceh communities from flashfloods. The Jakarta Govt can stop the spatial plan http://chn.ge/1gK1VOb @presidenSBY, @GamawanFauzi

Cancel the Aceh spatial plan or Sumatran orangutans & rhinos will risk extinction http://chn.ge/1gK1VOb @presidenSBY, @GamawanFauzi

The Leuser Ecosystem protects Aceh’s people from deadly floods. SBY, stop the spatial plan http://chn.ge/1gK1VOb@presidenSBY, @GamawanFauzi

Sincerest thanks again for all your support in the push to protect the Leuser Ecosystem! #TheLastPlaceOnEarth

Kind regards from Aceh,

end of the icons team

Palm Oil: The Other Kind of Oil Spill

News Watch, National Geographic 

A worker carries a palm oil sapling onto a cleared area to be planted in the coming days, after purpose lit fires go out in Tripa's peat forest, 13 June 2012, Aceh province, Sumatra, Indonesia. According to a field team from the coalition of NGO's to protect Tripa, that visited the area. Fires are continuing to be lit in the highly threatened Tripa Peat Forest despite assurances from the Indonesian central government that ‘triple track’ legal action was underway and a small area of the Peat Forest had returned to the moratorium map central to the multibillion agreement between Indonesia and Norway to reduce carbon emission from burning the carbon dense Peat Forests. Photo: Paul Hilton/SOCP/YEL (HANDOUT PHOTO, EDITORIAL USE ONLY)

A worker carries a palm oil sapling onto a cleared area to be planted in the coming days, after purpose lit fires go out in Tripa’s peat forest, 13 June 2012, Aceh province, Sumatra, Indonesia. According to a field team from the coalition of NGO’s to protect Tripa, that visited the area. Fires are continuing to be lit in the highly threatened Tripa Peat Forest despite assurances from the Indonesian central government that ‘triple track’ legal action was underway and a small area of the Peat Forest had returned to the moratorium map central to the multibillion agreement between Indonesia and Norway to reduce carbon emission from burning the carbon dense Peat Forests. Photo: Paul Hilton/SOCP/YEL (HANDOUT PHOTO, EDITORIAL USE ONLY)

By Elissa Sursara

Max laid hidden beneath the charred remains of a palm oil tree. He was frightened, injured, and falling in and out of consciousness.

I clicked my tongue and inched closer, hoping to soothe him. He eyed me curiously, hugging tightly to the branches. All around, the Tanjung Puting National Park burned, accidentally set alight by plantation workers who had cleared the surrounding land to harvest the palm oil plant. Separated from his family, Max had fallen casualty to the plantation fire, sustaining burns to his face and body.

In a swift move, I threw Max onto my back and raced toward the rescue team a few hundred meters away. As the smoke filled my lungs and hit my face, I felt Max’ grip become loose and his body become limp. Eventually his breathing stopped, and he died.

Like thousands of orangutans before him, Max was the victim of a different kind of oil spill: the trade in palm oil.

Palm oil monoculture is palming off orangutans in record numbers. Today, less than 70,000 orangutans exist in small wild pockets in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra. Populations are patchy and both species of orangutan are considered endangered, with conversion of land for palm oil plantation believed to be the species’ biggest threat.

Today, the controversial palm oil process is again at the forefront of environmental news, with Greenpeace staging international protests against a multinational consumer goods company for allegedly using palm oil tied to a supplier with links to tropical forest destruction.

Found in some 75 percent of everyday products, palm oil (sometimes known as vegetable oil) is the edible oil derived from the fleshy middle layer of the fruit of the oil palm. It acts as a cooking agent and is a popular household ingredient. As of 2010, it was the most widely used edible oil in the world, holding approximately 32 percent of the world’s oil market. Palm oil is found in McDonalds, Cadbury chocolates, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, KFC and KFC packaging, Dove and Avon personal care products, Herbal Essence shampoo, Clinique cosmetics, Tim Tams, Kit-Kats and Malteasers, Ritz crackers, Colgate and Palmolive toothpaste, Mars Incorporated chocolates and in Mary Kay, Covergirl, Lancome, Sephora, and Urban Decay cosmetics.

Scientists predict the average consumer uses at least one palm oil product per day.

Approximately 66 percent of Indonesia’s palm oil plantations and 87 percent of Malaysia’s plantations involve some form of documented forest conversion, displacing orangutans and disorienting their ability to find food and seek shelter. Since plantations are often close to villages, lost orangutans sometimes encroach on human settlement. The results are often deadly.

In 2010, animal rights group International Animal Rescue recorded “unspeakable cruelty” toward orangutans in Peniraman, remote Borneo, after a female orangutan and her baby wandered nearby a plantation in search of food. Angry workers allegedly hurled stones and waved sticks at the mother before binding the pair with rope and forcing their heads under the water. The mother later died.

To resolve the palm oil problem, environmental organizations have proposed sustainable palm oil process like a “no deforestation” policy suggested by Greenpeace. The initiatives seek to effectively reduce the pressure on endangered orangutans and their habitats, inherently safeguarding their populations.

WWF has pointed out: “other big palm oil consumers such as Unilever, Ferrero, L’Oreal, Delhaize, Kellog and the world’s biggest palm oil trader, Wilmar International, have all committed to no deforestation.”

Consumer support is also important in the protection of orangutans from harmful palm oil operations, WWF said, which can be facilitated by “palming off” unsustainable palm oil product.

PRESS RELEASE : Aceh NGOs call on the European Union to urgently mediate as conflict escalates over Aceh Parliament’s illegal land use plan

PRESS RELEASE – Aceh Forest Coalition

13/03/2014 – For immediate distribution

Illegal forest destruction to make way for palm oil expansion inside the Leuser Ecosystem, Aceh: The Leuser Ecosystem is the last place on earth where tigers, rhinos, elephants and orang-utans all found living together in the wild and is currently being threatened by an illegal land use by-law being driven by the Aceh Provincial Parliament despite being protected by national law.  Credit: Forest, Nature and Environment Aceh (HAkA)

Illegal forest destruction to make way for palm oil expansion inside the Leuser Ecosystem, Aceh: The Leuser Ecosystem is the last place on earth where tigers, rhinos, elephants and orang-utans all found living together in the wild and is currently being threatened by an illegal land use by-law being driven by the Aceh Provincial Parliament despite being protected by national law.
Credit: Forest, Nature and Environment Aceh (HAkA)

Aceh NGOs call on the European Union to urgently mediate as conflict escalates over Aceh Parliament’s illegal land use plan

[JAKARTA] Deputy Chairman of the Aceh Parliament, Muhammad Tanwir Mahdi, has announced to local media that Aceh Parliament rejected the Ministry of Domestic Affairs’ official evaluation of the Aceh spatial plan by-law (Qanun RTRWA) 2014-2034.

The content of the Aceh spatial plan is highly controversial, and various sources have denounced it as legally invalid. “There are many unanswered legal issues that still surround the issuance of this spatial plan by-law”, Kurniawan, SH, LLM. a legal expert from the University of Syiah Kuala of Banda Aceh, told a full press conference in Jakarta today. “The content of the proposed spatial planning law fails to recognize higher regulations, in particular ‘The Law on Governing Aceh’ (UU 11/2006) and the National Spatial Planning Law, both of which mandate the protection of the Leuser Ecosystem. The current spatial plan is technically invalid and must be revised to have any credibility”,  Kurniawan, concluded.

“We welcome the evaluation that has been conducted by the Ministry of Domestic Affairs and are disappointed that Aceh Parliament has rejected this opportunity to improve the content of the law”, said Walhi Aceh (Friends of the Earth Indonesia) Chairman, Muhammad Nur. “In Aceh we suffer environmental and social problems because of the illegal land clearing from logging and palm oil that is already pushing our protected forests. The Aceh Parliament must recognize the environmental sensitivities of Aceh. Opening the protected forests causes flooding and landslides that create devastation for our people, which will only escalate with poor land use planning. We need a legally compliant spatial plan that includes the protection function of the Leuser Ecosystem. DPRA has failed to do this, and for this reason Walhi Aceh will be pushing a judicial review of the spatial plan on behalf of the community and environment of Aceh”.

“Aceh has been very fortunate to have the support of the world for many years” Said Farwiza, Chairperson of Forest Nature and Environment Aceh. “From 1992 to 2004 Aceh Government worked together with the EU on environmental and social development. We cannot forget the generosity of the world after we suffered the great losses of the 2004 tsunami, for this, I, as an Acehnese woman, will be forever grateful to the people of the world. There was a bitter 30 year civil conflict which ended with the MoU Helsinki, thanks to international facilitation. Aceh made great gains to rebuild thanks to a strong commitment to working together with the central government and international community, however, but now many in Aceh feel as if we have been forgotten, all of the gains we made together are now at risk if we can not urgently work together to find a solution to the rising social and environmental conflict that is now taking place.“

…end

For further information please contact:

Kurniawan, SH, LLM

Legal Academic, University of Syiah Kuala of Banda Aceh

085370903661

kurniawanfh@yahoo.com

Muhammad Nur

Walhi (Friends of the Earth Indonesia) Aceh Chairman,

08126970494

mnur.walhiaceh@gmail.com

Aceh Lawmakers Reject Clarification of Interior Ministry

BANDA ACEH – Aceh Provincial Lawmakers and Government agreed to reject the evaluation result of the Interior Ministry on the Aceh’s Law (Qanun) on Spatial Plan 2014-2034.

Deputy Chairman of the Aceh Parliament, Muhammad Tanwir Mahdi, explained that the rejection was not related to the content of the law, but because delay of the evaluation by the Ministry.

He stated that the law has been submitted to the Interior Minister on December 30, 2013. But the evaluation result was only received on February 20, 2014, although it was scheduled for January 15, 2014.

“It was over the evaluation period and now is in the clarification period,” said Tanwir to Serambi on Sunday (8/3).

Since the result arrived late, the team member consisting of Aceh Lawmakers and Government considered the Central Government for indiscipline. “The Central Government must be on time and discipline. If the evaluation period is 15 days, then once the law is received, they need to evaluate immediately”, he added.

Within the evaluation letter of the Law on Spatial Plan of Aceh, 8 general points in general and 27 detail points of evaluation was included. “We have received all those evaluation result from the Interior Minister, we will not change the content of the law and we just returned it back to the Minister for clarification,” said Tanwir.

If the reply on clarification elapses the 15 days period, the Aceh Provincial Law on Spatial Plan 2014-2034 passed at the end of 2013 will be included in the Provincial Gazette.  “Once it is in the Provincial Gazettem the law is valid to be applied,” concluded Tanwir.

In precedent-setting case, palm oil company fined $30M for destroying orangutan forest

In precedent-setting case, palm oil company fined $30M for destroying orangutan forest

Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
January 09, 2014

In a precedent-setting case, an Indonesian court has found a palm oil company guilty of violating environmental laws and ordered it to pay $30 million in fines and reparations for clearing an area of protected peat forest that is a stronghold for endangered orangutans in Indonesia’s Aceh Province.

In a ruling handed down Wednesday, the Meulaboh district court concluded that PT Kallista Alam illegally cleared and burned forest within the the protected Tripa peat swamp in northwestern Sumatra. Senior Judge Rahmawati SH ordered the company to pay 114.3 billion rupiah ($9.4 million) in compensation and 251.7 billion rupiah ($20.6 million) to restore damaged areas.

The case was seen as a test of Indonesia’s appetite for enforcing a nationwide moratorium on new plantation and logging concessions across millions of hectares of rainforests and peatlands. Kallista Alam’s activities were particularly brazen, appearing to violate the moratorium, an earlier presidential decree on conversion of deep peat areas, and the sanctity of a high conservation value area known for its orangutan population. Kallista Alam also moved forward with forest clearing without securing proper permits or sign-off from some nearby communities.

Given the circumstances, the clearing sparked international outrage with more than 1.5 million people signing various online petitions calling for greater protection of Aceh’s forests, including opposing a proposal to remove large blocks of tiger and orangutan habitat from protection. Eventually, campaigns by environmental groups pushed the senior officials in the central government and the Ministry of the Environment to call for investigations, bolstering the legal proceedings.

With the ruling, environmental campaigners now hope that the Indonesian government will step up efforts to protect forests, especially in the Leuser Ecosystem, of which Tripa is a part.

“This is a clear message to companies working in Aceh who think they can destroy protected forests and get away with it,” said Muhammad Nur, Chairman of WALHI Aceh (Friends of the Earth Indonesia), which helped lead the campaign against Kallista Alam.

“The Judge’s decision in this case clearly illustrates a move towards improved law enforcement against environmental offenders in the region,” added Kamaruddin, a lawyer for communities in the Tripa area.

Although Kallista Alam is expected the appeal the decision, the company still faces additional civil and criminal cases. According to the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, four other palm oil companies operating in Tripa run the risk of prosecution.

“Each faces the possibility of serious financial consequences as a result of their illegal clearance, burning and drainage of Tripa’s unique peat swamp ecosystem,” said the group in a statement. “Some of the company Directors and senior management also face the prospect of prison terms in cases against them for their actions on the ground.”

While the developments in Aceh are headline-grabbing, there are still questions whether the judgements will be ultimately enforced. Courts have levied tens of billions of dollars in fines against logging, pulp and paper, mining, and palm oil companies in Sumatra in recent years, but only a tiny fraction of the penalties have ever been paid. Cases may be held up for years by appeals or quietly dropped. Prosecutors are shuffled between agencies, companies change names and laws shift.

Accordingly, Graham Usher of the PanEco Foundation says it is still too early to determine whether the Tripa case is a one-off or the emergence of a broader trend of better environmental law enforcement.

“The court’s decision is indeed a huge victory, and represents one significant step in the right direction,” Usher said in a statement. But I think many more such steps are needed before we will really see a change in the behavior of companies and officials.”

Indonesia has among the highest deforestation rates in the world, with the country losing almost half of its forest cover since 1950. Over the past twenty years, deforestation has been increasingly driven by industrial activities, including conversion for oil palm and timber plantations, intensive logging, and mining.

Deforestation has left several of Indonesia’s best-known animal species at risk of extinction, including tigers, rhinos, elephants, and orangutans, all of which live in Aceh. Forest loss has also increased social conflict in some areas, especially places with forest-dependent populations.

 

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