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From social media to the Supreme Court: The battle to save Papua's forests

Human Rights Monitor - June 12, 2024

The recent slogan "All Eyes on Papua" emerged in response to the viral "All Eyes on Rafah" campaign on Instagram. Indigenous communities and the youth in Papua hope that this movement will foster real solidarity with Papuan issues. The first post, shared more than three million times, called for support for the Awyu people in Boven Digoel, who are battling deforestation caused by the palm oil company PT Indo Asiana Lestari.

The fight for customary land

The Awyu tribe is striving to protect 36,094 hectares of customary land from palm oil expansion. The campaign, initially focused on agrarian conflicts, has now broadened to address issues such as education, health, hunger, and armed conflicts in Papua. These issues have led to numerous deaths and displacements over the decades.

Hendrikus Franky Woro, a representative of the Awyu Tribe, has become a central figure in this movement, despite not using social media. He recently expressed gratitude for the support from netizens and emphasized the tribe's reliance on the Supreme Court to fairly resolve their lawsuit against PT Indo Asiana Lestari.

Broader socio-political issues

The campaign gained traction after the Awyu representatives held a protest in front of the Supreme Court office in Jakarta on 27 May 2024. They performed traditional dances and chants, displaying posters with messages like "Save Papua's Customary Forests" and "Papua is Not Empty Land."

The "All Eyes on Papua" slogan went viral shortly after this protest. The campaign was bolstered by public figures, including Indonesian national footballer Sandy Walsh, and it drew significant attention to the extensive deforestation in Papua, documented by Yayasan Pusaka Bentala Rakyat. This deforestation, notably in Boven Digoel, threatens the livelihoods and heritage of indigenous communities.

The movement has highlighted not only environmental but also socio-political issues in Papua. Campaigners, such as Greenpeace's Sekar Banjaran Aji, stress the importance of public support in pressuring the Supreme Court to protect the forests. The campaign also seeks to raise awareness about the broader challenges faced by indigenous Papuans, including economic, health, and human rights issues.

Government response and criticism

The Indonesian government has responded with mixed signals. Presidential special staff Billy Mambrasar claimed to have recommended a review of the company permits to President Joko Widodo. However, this claim was questioned by researchers and activists who pointed out the government's historical neglect of indigenous rights and environmental concerns.

The United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) criticised the Indonesian government for ignoring long-standing conflicts and human rights abuses in Papua while condemning international conflicts like those in Palestine. They argue that the Indonesian government's approach has resulted in slow-motion genocide, ethnocide, and ecocide in Papua.

The legal battle continues

The legal battle for the Awyu and Moi tribes continues, with hopes pinned on the Supreme Court's upcoming decision. Despite setbacks in lower courts, the tribes remain determined to defend their customary lands. Their struggle represents not only a fight for environmental justice but also a broader call for recognition and protection of indigenous rights in Indonesia.

The "All Eyes on Papua" campaign serves as a powerful reminder of the ongoing struggles in Papua and the urgent need for solidarity and action to protect the region's people and environment. The movement urges the public to educate themselves about Papuan issues and support the indigenous communities' efforts to secure their rights and heritage.

Source: https://humanrightsmonitor.org/news/from-social-media-to-the-supreme-court-the-battle-to-save-papuas-forests