Hans Nicholas Jong, Jakarta – A group of Aceh citizens will lodge a civil lawsuit against the Home Ministry at the Central Jakarta District Court on Thursday in a bid to preserve the Leuser Ecosystem Zone (KEL), which they consider a unique and irreplaceable natural environment.
The group, called Gerakan Rakyat Aceh Menggugat (GERAM), has accused the ministry of failing to fulfil its duty of including protection of the KEL in the Aceh Provincial Spatial Plan (RTWT-P).
"We are an alliance of concerned citizens who have been fighting for nearly two years, since the Aceh government legalized a new land use plan that would effectively dissolve protection of much of Aceh's remaining tropical rainforests, whitewashing crimes of the past and paving the way for a new wave of catastrophic ecological destruction," said one of the plaintiffs, Farwiza Farhan.
The KEL spans the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra. Over 35 times the size of Singapore, this majestic and ancient ecosystem covers more than 2.6 million hectares of lowland rainforest, peat land, montane and coastal forests and alpine meadows.
Globally recognized as one of the richest expanses of tropical rainforest found anywhere in Southeast Asia, the KEL is also one of Asia's largest carbon sinks.
To the community living in the area, the local forest is a source of livelihood. Therefore, more recent laws have served to strengthen the protection of the KEL and place the responsibility for managing its preservation and restoration with the Aceh provincial government.
The KEL also has special legal status as a national strategic area for its environmental protection function (under Law No. 26/2007 juncto Law No. 26/2008), prohibiting any activity that would reduce that function, including cultivation and infrastructure development.
However, the Aceh administration failed to mention the KEL's status as a national strategic area in its land use plan issued through Qanun (Islamic bylaw) No. 19/2013.
"The Aceh administration cannot contest the inclusion of the KEL in its spatial plan because it exists as a protected area in three legal regulations: Law No. 11/2006 on Aceh governance, Law No. 26/2007 on spatial planning, and its derivative, Government Regulation No. 26/2008 on the National Spatial Plan," said Nurul Ikhsan, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs.
The Home Ministry has reviewed the Aceh spatial plan and found numerous legal infringements that need to be resolved before it is accepted. Under Indonesian law, the Aceh government is required to revise the regulation and in the absence of revisions, the home affairs minister is required to reject it.
The Wildlife Conservation Society reports that from 2000 to 2009, the Mount Leuser National Park (TNGL) lost 18,839 hectares of its forest area annually. Furthermore, half of the 60,000-ha area of Tripa Swamp, a part of the KEL, has been converted into palm oil plantations.