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Papua's customary forests are threatened with disappearance by the expansion of the palm oil industry

Asia today - June 3, 2024

Jakarta – The social media scene in Indonesia in the last few days has been filled with uploads of posters reading "All Eyes on Papua". This poster has been widely uploaded by residents as a form of support for the Papuan indigenous people, especially the Awyu and Moi tribes who are struggling to defend their customary forests.

This is because the customary forest, which has been a source of livelihood for the Awyu tribe in Boven Digoel, South Papua, and the Moi tribe in Sorong, West Papua, is at risk of being lost due to the expansion of the palm oil industry which is clearing land in Bumi Cenderawasih.

The "All Eyes on Papua" campaign has increasingly come into the public spotlight and gained momentum after environmental fighters from the Awyu and Moi tribes staged a protest at the Supreme Court, Jakarta, on Monday, May 27, 2024.

Based on official information from the Coalition to Save Papua Customary Forests published on the official Greenpeace Indonesia website, the Awyu tribe and Moi tribe communities are both involved in legal action against the local government and palm oil companies to defend their customary forests. Both lawsuits have now reached the cassation stage at the Supreme Court.

An environmental fighter from the Awyu tribe, Hendrikus Woro, sued the Papua Provincial Government for issuing an environmental feasibility permit for PT IAL.

PT IAL has an environmental permit covering an area of 36,094 hectares, or more than half the area of Jakarta City, and is located in the traditional forest of the Woro clan – part of the Awyu tribe.

However, Hendrikus' lawsuit failed in the first and second instance courts. Now, the cassation at the Supreme Court is his remaining hope to defend the customary forest which has been his ancestral heritage and support the Woro clan for generations.

Apart from the PT IAL case's cassation, a number of Awyu indigenous communities are also filing an cassation against the lawsuit of PT Kartika Cipta Pratama and PT Megakarya Jaya Raya, two palm oil companies which have also expanded and will expand in Boven Digoel. PT KCP and PT MJR, which previously lost at the Jakarta PTUN, filed an appeal and were won by a judge at the Jakarta State Administrative High Court (PTUN).

"We have been tormented for quite a long time by the existence of palm oil plans in our traditional territory. We want to raise our children through natural products. Palm oil will destroy our forests, we reject it," said Rikarda Maa, an Awyu traditional woman.

The Moi Sigin sub-tribe is fighting against PT SAS which will clear 18,160 hectares of Moi Sigin customary forest for oil palm plantations. PT SAS previously held a concession of 40 thousand hectares in Sorong Regency.

In 2022, the central government will revoke PT SAS's forest area release permit, followed by the revocation of business permits. Not accepting this decision, PT SAS sued the government at the Jakarta PTUN.

Representatives of the Moi Sigin indigenous community also fought back by submitting themselves as intervention defendants at the Jakarta PTUN in December 2023. After the judge rejected the lawsuit in early January, the Moi Sigin indigenous community filed an appeal to the Supreme Court on May 3, 2024.

"I urge the Supreme Court to provide legal justice for us indigenous peoples. The customary forest is where we hunt and gather sago. The forest is a pharmacy for us. Our needs are all in the forest. If our traditional forests disappear, where else will we go?" said Fiktor Klafiu, a representative of the Moi Sigin indigenous community who was the defendant in the intervention.

According to the Coalition to Save Papuan Traditional Forests, the existence of oil palm plantations is said to destroy forests which are a source of livelihood, food, water, medicine, culture and knowledge for the Awyu and Moi indigenous communities. This forest is also a habitat for endemic Papuan flora and fauna, as well as storing large carbon reserves.

It is feared that palm oil plantation operations will trigger deforestation which will release 25 million tonnes of CO2e into the atmosphere, exacerbating the impact of the climate crisis in the country.

"The panel of judges needs to prioritize aspects of environmental and climate justice, the impacts of which will not only be felt by the Awyu and Moi tribes but also other Indonesian people," said Tigor Hutapea, a member of the legal team for the Awyu and Moi tribes from Pusaka Bentala Rakyat.

Greenpeace Indonesia Forest Campaigner, Sekar Banjaran Aji, said that the struggle of the Awyu and Moi tribes was an honorable effort for the sake of customary forests, for the lives of their children and grandchildren today and in the future, and indirectly all of us.

"We invite the public to support the struggle of the Awyu and Moi tribes and speak out about saving Papua's forests which are our stronghold in facing the climate crisis." (AT Network)

Source: https://asiatoday.id/read/papuas-customary-forests-are-threatened-with-disappearance-by-the-expansion-of-the-palm-oil-industr