News Update: Indonesian Court Backs Palm Oil Company Over Orangutans

BANDA ACEH: The courts in Aceh have failed to protect a carbon-rich peat  forest and critically endangered orangutans from the actions of a palm oil  company which the central government acknowledges has acted illegally.

After five months of detailed argument, the three-judge court sitting in  Banda Aceh threw the case out on jurisdictional grounds, saying the complainants  from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) should first have sought  mediation with the company.

The lawyer for the complainants, Kamaruddin, said the judges had used the  wrong legislation – the environmental law, not administrative law – to make  their determination. He flagged an appeal.

And Riswan Zein, a representative of the environmental group Yayasan  Ekosistem Lestari, said if the judges were going to insist on mediation, they  should have mentioned it earlier in the case, which began in October.

The case began when Aceh’s then governor, Irwandi Yusuf, signed a permit in  August last year  to allow the  palm oil company PT Kallista Alam to set up new  plantation in the environmentally sensitive Tripa peat swamp seven hours south  of the province’s capital.

Detailed maps presented to the court showed the concession was part of the  Leuser Ecosystem, which is protected from development under Indonesia’s 2008  national planning law.

Large parts of the concession also consisted of peat swamp of more than three  metres in depth, making it a valuable store of carbon dioxide. The area also is  one of the last redoubts of the endangered Sumatran orangutan, whose population  in the area is estimated to now only number in the hundreds.

For all three reasons, permitting a plantation on the area and clearing it  was illegal, the complainants argued.

The Sumatra-based landscape protection specialist Graham Usher told the Herald the company had begun  clearing the swamp by burning, which is  also illegal. It has also dug two canals to drain it, he said.

A spokesman for Mr Irwandi, who is running for re-election as governor on  Monday, said he respected what the environmental groups had done in bringing the  case, and the former governor would evaluate it.

Without resiling from his decision to issue the permit, Mr Irwandi would “sit  down and talk” with the complainants, the spokesman said.

“I think this is what the court wants, that we have mediation,” he said. “But  if they want to appeal, we have to go through the court procedure first.”

Last year Indonesia’s secretary-general of the Ministry of Forestry, Hadi  Daryanto, told the Jakarta Post that the PT Kallista Alam permit was  “clearly a violation because the area in question is a peat forest”.

“On the moratorium map it’s clearly marked out as protected, but in the  revision that followed, it was somehow excluded. That exclusion in itself is  also a violation,” Mr Hari said.

The permit also appears to breach Indonesia’s international responsibilities  under the REDD  project, under which Norway has promised to pay the country $US1  billion ($9.6 million) for protecting its peat forests as a way of addressing  climate change.

Late last month, another rash of peat forest in the area was burned and  drained, prompting a coalition of environment groups to claim that, unless  authorities stopped the illegal action, the local population of the Sumatran  orangutan “could be extinct in a matter of months, even weeks if a prolonged dry  spell were to set in” and fuel the fires.

Environment groups estimate 100 orangutans may have died in the fires of  recent weeks.

Story by Michael Bachelard at The Sydney Morning Herald

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31 Responses

  1. This is terrible news but I expected it., for reasons which I shall not state. I shall not buy anything Indonesian again or anything that contains palm oil. Please continue to try to save the orangutans, and the forests where they live.

  2. Is clear to see here that money has spoken as the good old saying goes “money talks” and indeed has .I am truly sick to see politicians getting rich by selling out to these companies their precious resources they fail to protect , simply because they are greedy , irresponsible and immortal . They have a major responsability to the animals , the land and the people , but instead we can see were their loyalty lies here , with the blood sucking companies that are destroying the forest and murdering hundreds of endangered orangutans and others in the process , simply because they do not care except for themselves and the money they are making under the table to look the other way and do absolutely nothing , like a parasite waiting for the free next meal .it is a shame and a total disgrace indeed.

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