Jayapura, Jubi – In a bid to protect their land and forests, a group of environmental activists from the Awyu region has filed for intervention at the Jakarta Administrative Court.
They submitted an application to participate as intervening defendants in a state administrative dispute brought by PT Megakarya Jaya Raya and PT Kartika Cipta Pratama against the Minister of Environment and Forestry. They wanted to represent the interests of the Awyu tribe in the dispute.
Hendrikus Woro, an environmental activist belonging to the Awyu tribe, said his party wanted to become an intervening defendant to highlight that Papua is not a vacant territory.
"We came all the way to Jakarta to support the government in safeguarding our forests against companies that are seeking to demolish them," Woro said in a written statement received by Jubi in Jayapura on Tuesday, May 9, 2023.
According to Woro, the state administrative lawsuit initiated by the two companies against the Minister of Environment and Forestry could impact the well-being of the Awyu tribe, and as such, they must participate in safeguarding their rights. In a related matter, Woro previously filed a state administrative lawsuit on March 13, 2023, concerning the issuance of an environmental permit for PT Indo Asiana Lestari by the Papua Investment and One-Stop Open Service Office. The permit is situated in Boven Digoel, South Papua.
He said permits granted to several palm oil companies had put the customary forests and living space of the Awyu Tribe at risk. As an indigenous community, the Awyu tribe relies heavily on natural resources such as land, forests, rivers, swamps, and others to sustain their way of life.
"These are the sources of our livelihood, food and medicine, as well as our socio-cultural identity. The forest is an 'eternal asset' for us indigenous people," he said.
PT Megakarya Jaya Raya filed their legal dispute on March 10, 2023. The case challenges the Decree of the Minister of Environment and Forestry on the Ordering and Arrangement of Forest Area Release Holders under the name of PT Megakarya Jaya Raya in Boven Digoel Regency. Meanwhile, PT Kartika Cipta Pratama registered a lawsuit on March 15, 2023 to contest the same matter.
PT Megakarya Jaya Raya and PT Kartika Cipta Pratama, which are affiliated with the Hayel Saeed Anam Group, have neighboring plantation concessions in South Papua Province. The holders of these two concessions have cleared a combined total of 8,828 hectares of forest land that belonged to indigenous communities. Nevertheless, there are still 65,415 hectares of native rainforest that can be fought to be preserved.
According to Sekar Banjaran Aji, a member of the Save Papua Forest Advocacy Team, the licenses granted to PT Megakarya Jaya Raya and PT Kartika Cipta Pratama were part of the Tanah Merah Project scandal. The scandal involved allegations of illegal acquisition of licenses, and during the course of its development, several subsidiary licenses were revoked by the provincial government due to the permit forgery scandal.
The lawsuit filed by the two companies does not provide much information on the revocation of forest concession licenses. It is unclear whether the follow-up to the license revocation has taken into account the rights and interests of indigenous Papuans as landowners and custodians of the customary forests.
The participation of indigenous peoples in the recent process should prompt the government to be transparent in the ongoing revocation of forest area release concessions. The Ministry of Environment and Forestry needs to prioritize the ownership and rights of indigenous peoples in this matter.
Another member of the Save Papua Forest Advocacy Team, Tigor Gemdita Hutapea, emphasized the importance of the Ministry providing access to information and involving indigenous peoples in decision-making about the use of forest areas. This is essential to ensure that indigenous peoples' local knowledge is taken into account.
"Failing to provide information and opportunities for participation would be a violation of their rights," Tigor said.
Apart from filing an intervention request to the Jakarta Administrative Court, representatives of the Awyu tribe also lodged a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM). The purpose of this was to bring attention to the issues they have been facing, such as the infringement of indigenous people's rights, the consequences of palm oil plantations, and the threat of a more severe climate crisis. (*)