In landmark ruling, Indonesia's indigenous people win right to millions of hectares of forest

Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
May 17, 2013



Court ruling invalidates Indonesian govt's claim to customary forest areas

In a landmark ruling, Indonesia's Constitutional Court has invalidated the Indonesian government's claim to millions of hectares of forest land, potentially giving indigenous and local communities the right to manage their customary forests, reports Mongabay-Indonesia.

In a review of a 1999 forestry law, Indonesia's Constitutional Court ruled [PDF - Indonesian] that customary forests should not be classified as "State Forest Areas". The move is significant because Indonesia's central government has control over the country's vast forest estate, effectively enabling agencies like the Ministry of Forestry to grant large concessions to companies for logging and plantations even if the area has been managed for generations by local people. In practice that meant ago-forestry plots, community gardens, and small-holder selective logging concessions could be bulldozed for industrial logging, pulp and paper production, and oil palm plantations. In many cases, industrial conversion sparked violent opposition from local communities, which often saw few, if any, benefits from the land seizures.

The move was prompted by a request for review by National People's Indigenous Organization (AMAN), which represents indigenous people across the sprawling archipelago. AMAN estimates that the ruling affects 30 percent of Indonesia's forest estate or 40 million hectares (154,000 square miles).

"About 40 million indigenous people are now the rightful owners of our customary forests," said Abdon Nababanm, AMAN's Secretary-General, in a statement.


Forest in Java. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

The ruling is a potential blow to the Ministry of Forestry, which has used its massive land bank to accumulate substantial revenue and political power in recent decades.

However the full implications of the ruling are still unknown. A senior Ministry of Forestry official told AFP that the area of "customary forest" was far smaller than 40 million hectares and that implementation could take years to move through the various levels of government.

Martua Sirait, a researcher from the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF), agreed that the next steps will be complex.



Implications for both business, conservation

The court decision could make it more difficult for companies to get forestry concessions in Indonesia as well as the government to set aside conservation areas without the consent of local people. Both concession licenses and the establishment of parks have been sources of social conflict in Indonesia in recent decades.
"It is still unclear yet how conflict between customary communities and private sector [companies] that received permits from the Ministry of Forestry or local government will be resolved," Martua told Mongabay.com. "But the court decision strengthened the customary community in mediation and in front of court, if a case brought to the court. It will prevent customary communities from being criminalized for entering their forest."

"In the future the Ministry of Forestry or the local government cannot release a permit in an area that is classified as privately-owned forest and customary forest without a Free, Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) process," Martua continued. "For conservation areas, I believe this will open the window for customary community-based conservation management systems and close collaboration between the Ministry of Forestry and customary communities."

Martua added that the decision could eventually reduce social conflict over forestry permits in Indonesia. According to the National Forestry Council, conflicts over forest management currently involve nearly 20,000 villages in 33 provinces throughout Indonesia. The rights to more than 1.2 million hectares is in dispute.


Forest in Java. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

The court decision was cheered by environmentalists and indigenous rights groups.

“For more than 40 years, indigenous peoples of Indonesia have been marginalized, impoverished and criminalized due to lack of recognition of indigenous rights that led to lasting tenurial conflicts," said Mardi Minangsari, a forest campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). "The judicial review filed by AMAN (Indigenous Peoples' Alliance of the Archipelago) is one effort to reclaim the rights of indigenous peoples in Indonesia."

Fighting illegal logging in Indonesia by giving communities a stake in forest management

(03/10/2011) Over the past twenty years Indonesia lost more than 24 million hectares of forest, an area larger than the U.K. Much of the deforestation was driven by logging for overseas markets. According to the World Bank, a substantial proportion of this logging was illegal. Curtailing illegal logging may seem relatively simple, but at the root of the problem of illegal logging is something bigger: Indonesia's land policy.
"This is an important change for indigenous peoples in the republic," AMAN's Abdon told Mongabay-Indonesia. "It is a decision that restores a sense of nationhood for indigenous peoples who have been close to despair."

"The court has found the forestry laws provisions unconstitutional," Abdon continued. "The state cannot expel us from our customary forests that have been our source of livelihoods for generations."

Indonesia has one of the highest rates of forest loss in the world. Industrial activities — notably logging, conversion for timber and oil palm plantations, and mining — are a major driver of deforestation, especially in Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan), Sumatra, and Indonesian New Guinea (Papua and West Papua). However forest recovery has been observed some areas where communities have been granted land tenure. For example, the island of Java — where community forests are rapidly expanding — now has more forest than it had a decade ago.


Chart: Percent forest cover change in Indonesia and Malaysia between 2000 and 2010
Chart: Percent forest cover change in Indonesia and Malaysia between 2000 and 2010. Background satellite image courtesy of Google Earth, design by mongabay.com. Click image to enlarge. Related story.





Related sections: Indonesia pictures | Indonesia news feed












Related articles

Analysis: Indonesia renews moratorium on logging, palm plantations

(05/16/2013) Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made a bold and courageous decision this week to extend the country’s forest moratorium. With this decision, which aims to prevent new clearing of primary forests and peat lands for another two years, the government could help protect valuable forests and drive sustainable development.


Indonesia officially extends forestry moratorium

(05/15/2013) The Indonesian government has officially extended its moratorium on new logging and plantation concessions in 65 million hectares of forests and peatlands for another two years. The move, which had been expected, was announced Wednesday by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.


New UN report gives Indonesia low marks in forest governance

(05/09/2013) A new UN report exposes serious flaws in Indonesia’s forest governance, serving as a wake up call to policy makers aiming to conserve forests in the country, which boasts the third largest area of tropical forest coverage in the world. On Monday, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) together with the Government of Indonesia launched a comprehensive forest governance index, which evaluates forest governance at the central, provincial and district levels and offers policy recommendations designed to better equip the country to conserve forests and peatlands.


Probe confirms Singapore-based palm oil company engaged in land-grabbing in Borneo

(04/26/2013) An independent investigation has shown that First Resources Ltd, a palm oil plantation company and member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), failed to obtain proper consent from local communities before clearing rainforests for plantations in Indonesian Borneo, an Indonesian indigenous rights group reported last week.


Improving community healthcare helps protect rainforests in Borneo

(03/14/2013) Providing high quality healthcare to communities around a rainforest park in Indonesian Borneo may be helping reduce chronic illegal logging, suggests a new assessment published by a conservation group. The five-year impact assessment published by Indonesia-based Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI) is based on surveys of nearly 1,500 households and 6,345 people living around Gunung Palung National Park in West Kalimantan. The study compares key health, economic, and conservation indicators to a baseline survey taken in 2007, prior to the launch of the project.


Dozens arrested after community fights deforestation by paper company in Indonesia

(03/07/2013) Dozens of villagers from Indonesia’s North Sumatra province traveled to Jakarta this week to demand the release of 16 farmers who remain in detention after conflicts erupted between indigenous communities in Humbang Hasundutan district and PT Toba Pulp Lestari, a unit of the pulp and paper giant Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings (APRIL).


Chart: Indonesia's forest moratorium

(07/22/2012) Indonesia’s moratorium on new forestry concessions was proposed in 2010 under an agreement with Norway to reduce emissions from deforestation and peatlands degradation. Set to begin Jan 1, 2011, the moratorium was not defined until May 2011 due to battles over what lands would be included. The moratorium was originally expected to include all forest areas, but lobbying by industrial sectors led to significant weakening, resulting in only peatlands and primary forests being included in the moratorium, with loopholes for mining and some energy and food crops.


Indigenous rights rising in tropical forests, but big gaps remain

(05/31/2012) In the last twenty years, rights for indigenous forest dwellers have expanded significantly, according to a new report by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI). Covering nearly thirty tropical forest countries, the report finds that indigenous people now hold rights to 31 percent of the forest land in these countries, rising from 21 percent in 1992. However, landmark land rights for indigenous people remain imperiled by lack of enforcement, land-grabbing, government ambivalence, and industrial development. The report comes less than a month before the Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development, a meeting of global leaders that marks two decades since the Rio Earth Summit.


Indigenous community forcibly evicted for palm oil in Indonesian Borneo

(11/01/2011) A palm oil company has forcibly evicted an indigenous community from one of the last tracts of rainforest near Jempang in Indonesia's East Kalimantan province on the island of Borneo, reports Telapak, a group that advocates community forest management.


Indonesia to recognize rights of forest communities, indigenous peoples

(07/12/2011) Indonesia will 'recognize, respect and protect' the rights of traditional forest users, including indigenous people, as it works to slow deforestation, reports the Rights and Resources Initiative, a coalition of NGOs.


Indonesia's moratorium undermines community forestry in favor of industrial interests

(06/21/2011) Indonesia's moratorium on new concessions in primary forest areas and peatlands "completely ignores" the existence of community forestry management licenses, jeopardizing efforts to improve the sustainability of Indonesia's forest sector and ensure benefits from forest use reach local people, say environmentalists. According to Greenomics-Indonesia, a Jakarta-based NGO, community and village forestry licenses are not among the many exemptions spelled under the presidential instruction that defines the moratorium. The instruction, issued last month, grants exemptions for industrial developers and allows business-as-usual in secondary forest areas by the pulp and paper, mining and palm oil industries.


Is Indonesia losing its most valuable assets?

(05/16/2011) Deep in the rainforests of Malaysian Borneo in the late 1980s, researchers made an incredible discovery: the bark of a species of peat swamp tree yielded an extract with potent anti-HIV activity. An anti-HIV drug made from the compound is now nearing clinical trials. It could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year and help improve the lives of millions of people. This story is significant for Indonesia because its forests house a similar species. In fact, Indonesia's forests probably contain many other potentially valuable species, although our understanding of these is poor. Given Indonesia's biological richness — Indonesia has the highest number of plant and animal species of any country on the planet — shouldn't policymakers and businesses be giving priority to protecting and understanding rainforests, peatlands, mountains, coral reefs, and mangrove ecosystems, rather than destroying them for commodities?


Fighting illegal logging in Indonesia by giving communities a stake in forest management

(03/10/2011) Over the past twenty years Indonesia lost more than 24 million hectares of forest, an area larger than the U.K. Much of the deforestation was driven by logging for overseas markets. According to the World Bank, a substantial proportion of this logging was illegal. Curtailing illegal logging may seem relatively simple, but at the root of the problem of illegal logging is something bigger: Indonesia's land policy. Can the tide be turned? There are signs it can. Indonesia is beginning to see a shift back toward traditional models of forest management in some areas. Where it is happening, forests are recovering. Telapak understands the issue well. It is pushing community logging as the 'new' forest management regime in Indonesia. Telapak sees community forest management as a way to combat illegal logging while creating sustainable livelihoods.




CITATION:
Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com (May 17, 2013).

In landmark ruling, Indonesia's indigenous people win right to millions of hectares of forest.

http://news.mongabay.com/2013/0517-indonesia-customary-forest.html