AdminJun 26, 2017

By : Julian Howay (*)


Drone footage of the border between untouched land and the land cleared by Korindo on its Papua Agro Lestari concessions in Merauke –


THE island of New Guinea or Papua in the South Pacific has a largely unspoiled tropical forest (75%). These forests were formed over thousands of years ago and spread from the lowlands, valleys, hills to the towering mountains. For outsiders, the largely virgin tropical forest of Papua holds a number of mysteries.

Forest exoticism on the island has become the last bastion of life providers for biodiversity in Indonesia and internationally. Not surprisingly, the powerful ocean explorers from Europe, China, Arabia and India who first landed on this land dubbed the island of New Guinea (Papua) as a dazzling world paradise that just began to be explored in the 19th century. The high value of biodiversity makes many natural scientists know Papua as the Major Tropical Wilderness Area (TWA), beside Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).


The total area of ​​tropical forests of the island of New Guinea (Papua) is about 73.8 million hectares (80%) of the land area or 22 percent of the land area of ​​Indonesia. From this total area, neighboring state of Papua New Guinea (PNG) in the east has 34 million hectares or 70 percent of the country’s territory. By this amount, approximately 25,211,000 hectares (55 percent) are primary forests and the rest are secondary forests.

Because of the important benefit of the forests, fundamentally the life of indigenous Papuans can not be separated from the natural environment such as land, water, oxygen and forests. For thousands of years, these forests have been the main provider of life for at least 1,187 indigenous tribes who inhabit the island of New Guinea (Papua). Divided between 312 indigenous tribes in western New Guinea (West Papua) which is now part of Indonesia and 875 tribes in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

In the view of the Papuans, the nature of which belongs to the land and the forest is like a “life-giving mother.” In the life of a traditional sub-system living, the forests function as “natural supermarkets” which provide various food needs, the place of ritual actualization culture, entertainment, and as place to give them inspiration about life. Therefore, when the land and its natural resources such as forests are expropriated or damaged, Papuans as part of world indigenous people will suffer and are deprived of their cultural identity.

Unfortunately, the existence of tropical forests in Papua continues to shrink as degradation and deforestation rates occur over time. In the life of a traditional sub-system living, illegal logging and improper forest management of local people have caused the destruction of forests in Papua getting worsening. It could even say that it has entered an “emergency status.” Deforestation began in the 1980s when general Soeharto, the Indonesian Government military dictatorship issued a political economy policies that supported development and investment. But these policies were not friendly to the environment and local people who live around the forest.

From the total 73.8 million hectares of Papua’s forest area recorded in 2005, it is now drastically reduced. West Papua as a region on the western part of New Guinea is now the largest contributor to deforestation compared to neighboring state of Papua New Guinea (PNG) in the east. In 2005-2009, Papua’s forest area ranged from 42.22 million hectares. But three years later in 2011, it has experienced degradation to the remaining 30.07 million hectares.

Average deforestation rate in Papua ranging from 300,000 hectares (25%) per year. From these facts, Greenpeace, the international environmental organization recorded that the loss of Papua’s forest in the period of 2000-2009 ranged from 8.19 million hectares or on average 910,000 hectares of forest lost each year. Even some environmental NGOs like Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) estimate, the average of deforestation in Papua reaches one million hectares annually.

Some major causes of deforestation in Papua (Indonesia) consist of forest conversion by illegal logging and oil palm plantations, forest burning, mining, construction of roads and new settlements. Illegal logging and expansion of large-scale oil palm plantations are two main factors that caused the largest deforestation in Papua.

Illegal logging cases are generally done by licensed timber companies, but are cutting forests outside of their concession area. Large-scale palm oil plantations so far have been proven to bring environmental problems and disasters to the local community from the social aspect. In two regions in Indonesia such as Sumatra and Kalimantan, the presence of large scale oil palm plantations has impacted the destruction of thousands of hectares of primary forest.

As a result, local people as landowners who had been able to live peacefully only by depending on forest products, changed their lifestyles due to being low-wage palm oil planters. Local people are also uprooted from the cultural roots associated with the existence of the forest as a provider of life. In general, deforestation in Papua gives negative impacts towards the function of the forest as climate regulator, CO2 and oxygen producer and forest is no longer a life support provider.

Therefore, to reduce deforestation in Papua (Indonesia), there are some important things that can be done. First, the Indonesian government needs to change its political economy policy to provide the preservation and protection of forest. Second, the government need to apply development policies oriented to sustainable development that does not destroy the forest.

Third, supervision and law enforcement against any perpetrator of environmental crime and destruction of forests. Fourth, the government need to empower the local communities (indigenous people), who live around the forest to engage in surveillance efforts, conservation and sustainable use of forests.

Fifth, the government must commit to implementing policies related to the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) mechanism in order to reduce carbon emissions by providing compensation to the parties (including local communities) in the prevention of deforestation and forest degradation. Sixth, replanting (reforestation) and rehabilitation of degraded forest with native plants that are beneficial to the local communities.

Advocacy efforts and the joint campaign of saving Papua’s forests have been ongoing since 2006. This campaign was formulated into a major theme: “Save the Forest and Papuan” or in bahasa (Indonesia language) “Selamatkan Hutan dan Manusia Papua.” The reason is that Papua’s forests and its indigenous people are so intertwined that the rescue effort is a heavy task and must be taken seriously.

Given the increasingly deteriorating condition of forests, it is necessary to engage customary institutions as active government partners in the preparation, establishment, socialization and implementation of forest management governance. Law implementation and strict sanction is required to stop illegal logging perpetrators.

In conclusion, Papua’s vast tropical forest riches are a God’s gift worthy of being grateful as well as protected. Do not let this valuable gift be a curse in the future. By saving the forests of Papua, it means saving the natural wealth of humans and the invaluable Papuan culture. We have to do something to save the people and the forest of Papua for the better future. Save the forest, save the future !

*) Julian Howay is a freelance journalist and environmental activist.

Indonesian province revokes palm oil licenses


Indonesian province revokes palm oil licenses

Merauke govt’s move to pull 11 permits wins church and popular backing, but damage to nature ‘has already been done’
This picture taken on May 19 shows an Indonesian forest that was recently cleared to plant oil palm trees. Church and local people in Papua have welcomed a recent decision by local officials to revoke the licenses of 11 plantation firms. (Photo by Goh Chai Hin/AFP)

Eman Riberu, Merauke


June 12, 2017

A local government’s decision in Papua to pull licenses for a number plantation companies has won overwhelming backing from the Catholic Church and local people, calling the move a victory for the environment.

The Merauke regency government revoked the permits of 11 palm oil and sugarcane plantations last week, saying their presence were of little benefit to local people.

The deputy regent of Merauke, Sularso ­ who like many Indonesians goes by only one name ­ said land that had been leased to the companies would be returned to their owners.

The decision to revoke existing licenses goes a step further than following a moratorium imposed by Indonesian President Joko Widodo in April last year halting the issuing of new permits for plantation firms for at least three years.

Father Anselmus Amo, chairman of Merauke Diocese’s secretariat of Justice and Peace, said the move was welcome news and long overdue.

“The presence of palm oil companies harms indigenous peoples, their land rights and the environment,” Father Amo said.

These plantations have “caused the loss of tens of thousands of hectares of forest in Merauke, damaging the environment and creating land conflicts,” he said.

He called on local government to do more and monitor the activities of plantation companies still operating in Merauke more closely.

The church, wants local government to conduct a detailed assessment of the environmental and socio-cultural impacts palm oil companies have by involving academics, practitioners and indigenous peoples.

Elisabeth Ndiwaen, a leader of the local Marind tribal community, said her people looked forward to taking back their land but expressed bitterness that much of it had been ruined by deforestation.

Forests are like the womb of a mother who gives life. From the forest they can get food by hunting and harvesting other crops, she said.

“Nature provides for free, but the value of the land is now reduced because forests have been cleared by palm oil companies,” she added.

Some 42,000 hectares of lush tribal forest land had been destroyed by palm oil firms in Ngguti district alone, Ndiwaen said.

Merauke Regency covers about 4.6 million hectares, 95.3 percent was forest.

As of today, more than 1.6 million hectares has been given to companies, of which 316,347 hectares were for palm oil plantations.

Papua province is predominantly Christian. Some 65 percent of the province’s 3.2 million people are Protestant, 18 percent are Catholic, while 15 percent are Muslim.


The legal system and Blashemy

A Written Submission to the UN Human Rights Council by the Asian Legal Resource Centre

INDONESIA: Hardliner groups have more power over the judiciary than the text of the law

1. The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) wishes to inform the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) regarding the immense pressure and protests put on the trial against the Jakarta governor Mr. Basuki Tjahja Purnama (aka Ahok). Ahok stands convicted today, by a court that feared and acted upon the pressure from Islamic fundamentalists than the principles of law.

2. This case is bad precedent, wherein law enforcement agency has acted under pressure to pacify hardliner groups who organised massive demonstrations calling to punish Ahok. Since the beginning of the trial in December 2016 until its end in May 2017, public protests were organised in front of the court to pressure the judges to punish Ahok and the judiciary complied.

3. Mobilizing of mobs, to pressure judges to decide cases in line with what the pressure group demands undermines the possibility of fair trial and the independence of judiciary. The UN Human Rights Council should note that today the institution of judiciary in Indonesia faces serious threats.

4. During the long years of dictatorship, the judiciary was virtually ignored, and the basic institutional framework for an independent judiciary was completely undermined. It is in the years after the fall of the dictatorship that some measures were adopted to negate the situation that prevailed under the dictatorship and these efforts are at a very early stage.

5. The Indonesian judiciary lacks the adequate infrastructure and resources to function properly. The country does not have enough number of judges to undertake court proceedings and adequate courts and other infrastructure to function for the existing judges that given the number of cases they have to deal with the workload is enormous and delays in adjudication a common phenomenon.

6. An institution to develop independence and professionalism takes time. In essence it is a change in the professional culture of the institution, for which exceptional care and encouragement is to be provided to the institution to undergo that transformation. In the case of judiciary, it is the responsibility of the state to provide all the catalysts for such a change to happen, for the members of the judiciary and the Bar to ensure that threats to their independence are not ignored. Unfortunately this is not the case in Indonesia. The Bar for instance is fractured with biased interests, for instance in the name of religion and ethnicity, where the principles of rule of law and fair trial are given a back seat.

7. The result of this situation is that the average citizen believes that the courts are not temples of justice where equality before the law is practiced, but institutions that work for those in power and are rich. To change this, instances like that led to the conviction of Ahok do not help.

8. Instances like the conviction of Ahok, once again recalls the state of Indonesian judiciary during the time of the dictatorship. If the military was the ultimate arbiter during dictatorship, it is hardliner groups that have formed a political force that dictates the judiciary today in Indonesia. In addition, the military itself operates above the law in Indonesia. This means laws apply in two different ways to the ordinary people and those in uniform. This has to end.

9. In view of the above, the ALRC requests the Human Rights Council to urge the government of Indonesia to ensure an environment to develop an independent judiciary in the country. The ALRC also requests the Council to encourage Indonesia to formally invite the UN Special on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers to visit the country and undertake a study of the challenges faced by the country’s justice institutions and to work with the government to bring about a positive change.

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About the ALRC: The Asian Legal Resource Centre is an independent regional non-governmental organisation holding general consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It is the sister organisation of the Asian Human Rights Commission. The Hong Kong-based group seeks to strengthen and encourage positive action on legal and human rights issues at the local and national levels throughout Asia.