November 27, 2012
Today the Court of Meulaboh, in Aceh Province, Indonesia, held its first hearing of a civil case brought by Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Attorney General’s Office vs the palm oil company, PT Kallista Alam, for crimes conducted in the Tripa Peat Swamp Forest.
The Indonesian Ministry of the Environment was represented by prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office of the Republic of Indonesia. PT Kallista Alam, on the other hand, did not appear, causing the trial to be postponed since the judges were unable to address both parties.
One of the prosecution team, Lawyer Ryan Palasi, expressed disappointment over the company’s absence, “It suggests the defendant is not taking the proceedings seriously and not committed to settling the case,” he said after the hearing.
Dr. Ian Singleton, Conservation Director for the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, said “We very much welcome this landmark action by the Ministry of Environment and will be monitoring the case closely, There continues to be a huge amount of international interest in the events in Tripa, building the momentum for multiple investigations and this case to proceed. Earlier this year, the Administrational Court of Medan found that at least one concession owned by PT Kallista Alam in Tripa was illegal, resulting in Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah immediately showing strong leadership towards conservation by revoking the highly controversial permit. Tripa is indeed a high profile case with considerable international interest in how the Indonesian Government’s current prosecutions progress” he added.
Chairman of Friends of the Earth Indonesia’s Aceh office (WALHI Aceh), TM Zulfikar, concurred, “Walhi Aceh applauds the determination shown by the Ministry of Environment in bringing this case to the law court in Meulaboh. We hope this case will help strengthen land use planning and illustrate consistency in natural resource management within the province. Improved governance and accountability of law breakers is urgently needed to ensure Aceh’s natural resources can be managed more sustainably in future for the numerous benefits they provide for Aceh’s people. We would advice business operating in Aceh to disengage with environmentally destructive activities, much of the destruction of the Tripa ecosystem has be done illegally, and now its time to redress the balance and bring those responsible to account.”
The Tripa Peat Swamp Forest comprises 61,000 hectares, within the larger 2.6 million hectare protected Leuser Ecosystem; one of South East Asia’s most important biodiversity hotspots and the only place on earth where the Sumatran Tiger, Rhino, Elephant and Orangutan can all be found living side by side.
The start of legal proceedings in this case coincides with a visit to Indonesia by the Crown Prince of Norway, Haakon Magnus, and his wife, Crown Princess Mette-Marit, who according to press reports are interested in discussing environmental issues with President SBY whilst they are here. The Scandinavian country pledged a $1 billion assistance package to help protect Indonesian forests in 2010, on the condition that there is a verifiable reduction in deforestation and deforestation in Indonesia. Before the current wave of destruction by oil palm companies began in Tripa, these swamps provided abundant fresh clean water for local communities, and even today is a carbon store of global importance in the battle against climate change. In fact, large tracts of Tripa are also off limits to new plantation developments under a moratorium on new plantations in primary forests and peat swamps established by President SBY as part of the Government’s commitment under its 1 billion dollar agreement with Norway.
“Satellite imagery and community reports identify at least three companies operating in Tripa that have clearly breached the moratorium and other government legislation. These include concessions claimed by PT Kallista Alam, PT Surya Panen Subur 2 and PT Dua Perkasa Lestari,” said Deddy Ratih, Spatial Planning Advocacy Manager for WAHLI Indonesia. “We would like to invite Crown Prince Magnus and Indonesian President SBY to visit Tripa so they can see first hand the continuing deforestation, including those areas clearly off limits under the agreement between the two countries, to alert them to the realities on the ground and the fact that forest clearance and drainage of the peatlands is still continuing despite the legal processes now ongoing. All the palm oil companies in Tripa need to be reviewed to ensure they abide by the permits, and if the permits do not follow the law, they should be immediately revoked, the law of Indonesia needs to be followed” he added.
“Perhaps the biggest crime”, concluded an impassioned Dr Singleton, “is that despite all the investigations, the court proceedings, and some successes so far, we may well end up with justice in the courts, but still lose the unique Tripa peat swamp forest ecosystem and its globally important Sumatran Orangutan population. Time is running out, and stopping illegal activities in the field and closing the drainage canals in Tripa has to be the number one priority. For the companies representatives to not even appear before the court when summoned today shows an all time low to the respect to courts, law and Government of Indonesia by the palm oil companies who operate in Tripa, they really must just believe the rules do not apply”.
The next hearing in this high profile environmental case is scheduled to be held in the district court of Meulaboh, Aceh Province, on 12th December.