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Indonesian NGOs lawyer up against environmental crimes

The horn confiscated by authorities on Aug. 13. Photo by Ayat Karokaro/Mongabay-Indonesia.

  • NGOs in North Sumatra have joined forces to set up a network of legal experts in environmental law.
  • The region has long suffered from environment-related crimes that often are handled poorly by the authorities.
  • The team will push for stronger enforcement of environmental law and justice in the province.

MEDAN, Indonesia — Several NGOs in Indonesia’s North Sumatra province have established a joint team of legal experts to focus on addressing environmental crimes in the region.

“This team is a step forward in our efforts to enforce environmental law and justice,” said Dana Tarigan, executive director of the North Sumatra provincial branch of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), one of the founding members of the coalition.

The legal team was officially launched on Oct. 26 in Medan, the North Sumatra capital. It includes legal advisers on environmental regulations from the North Sumatra Advocacy and Legal Aid Association (Bakumsu); the provincial chapter of the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI); the Medan chapter of Indonesia’s Legal Aid Foundation (LBH); Yayasan Pusaka Indonesia; and the Medan chapter of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras).

“Civil organizations in North Sumatra have deployed their representatives to join this team. It’s going to provide swift legal defense and counsel,” Dana said.

NGO representatives in North Sumatra announce the forming of a joint team of legal experts on environmental regulations. Photo by Ayat S. Karokaro/Mongabay-Indonesia.

Poor law enforcement, weak sentencing by courts, and corruption by local officials are all seen as factors in the various environmental crimes in North Sumatra, including the illegal wildlife trade, where the few perpetrators brought to trial are often let off with lenient sentences. The province’s extractives industry is also rife with allegations of graft, including the recent arrest of North Sumatra’s top mining official on charges of taking bribes.

Dana said the legal team was set up to provide legal counseling on environmental and land regulations for residents, particularly those involved in land conflicts with plantation companies. Walhi has taken on at least 15 such cases this year alone involving indigenous communities, he said.

“This is very important so that the locals don’t feel intimidated,” Dana said.

A government-backed project to build Sumatra’s largest hydropower station in the province has been criticized for threatening to evict indigenous communities from their ancestral lands. The planned project is also expected to damage the Batang Toru forest, which is home to the critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis), a newly described species.

Other development projects also threaten the region’s rich biodiversity: Proposals for a road and a geothermal power plant seek to clear parts of Mount Leuser National Park, which straddles North Sumatra and Aceh provinces and is the only place in the world where rhinos, tigers, elephants and orangutans still coexist in the wild.

This story was reported by Mongabay’s Indonesia team and was first published on our Indonesian site on Nov. 1, 2017.

Banner image: Police in Sumatra confiscate a piece of hacked horn of Sumatran rhino. Photo by Ayat S. Karokaro/Mongabay-Indonesia.

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