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Indonesian NGO voluntarily joins lawsuit as co-defendant in palm oil deforestation case

An Indonesian environmental group has taken the unusual step of asking to be named as a co-defendant in a case brought against the Aceh government by a palm oil company over the governor’s decision to cancel a controversial concession in a peat forest on the island of Sumatra.

WALHI-Aceh on Friday motioned to join the Governor of Aceh Province as a co-defendant in a lawsuit brought by PT. Kallista Alam, a palm oil company whose permit was terminated after it was found by a court to be clearing protected peatland. The cancellation came after a long legal battle waged by WALHI.

In joining the lawsuit, WALHI would be able to continue pushing Kallista Alam, which hopes to have the permit revocation reversed by a higher court. The move could have important legal implications for similar cases in Indonesia, according to TM Zulfiker, Walhi Aceh Executive Director.

“WALHI’s move to intervene like this is the first ever of its kind in Indonesia, and serves to emphasize just how serious we are in our support for the Governor’s strong stance in upholding the law against illegal permits in the province”, Zulfiker said in a statement. “We must ensure the Administrational Court in Banda Aceh fully understands the legal processes that have led to this new case being filed, in particular the course of events that followed after Walhi won the appeal in its case against the company at the Administration Court in Medan, which led directly to the Governor taking action and revoking the company’s permit”.

In other words, WALHI wants to be sure the court decision doesn’t succumb to lack of follow-through or other forms of pressure that are sometimes exerted on courts by companies in Indonesia.

Kallista Alam objected to the WALHI’s motion.

Sumatran orangutan

The case is one of at least three relating to Kallista Alam’s concession in Tripa peat swamp. The company has been charged with breaking several regulations governing conversion of deep peat to plantations as well as fraudulently obtaining its operating permit.

The situation in Tripa has won international attention as a test of Indonesia’s commitment to a nation-wide moratorium issued in 2011 by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono under his plan to reduce deforestation and associated greenhouse gas emissions. The moratorium prohibits new concessions in 14.5 million hectares of previously unprotected peatlands and primary forests. Tripa has also garnered support from environmentalists because it serves as habitat for endangered Sumatran orangutans.

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