Marguerite Afra Sapiie – People grouped under Gerakan Rakyat Menggugat (GeRAM) are raising awareness for the need to protect the Leuser Ecosystem Zone (KEL) in Aceh through an online petition.
Posted on change.org in February, the petition calls on President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo to protect one of the richest expanses of tropical rainforest in Southeast Asia. It has garnered 55,000 signatures as of Thursday.
Award-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio has also promoted the petition through social media following his visit to Mount Leuser National Park in late March.
The petition is among efforts to urge the government to revise an Islamic bylaw on spatial planning that does not include KEL as among the protected forests and national strategic areas in its land-use plan.
The group filed a class action lawsuit in January against Home Minister Tjahjo Kumolo, Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah and Aceh Legislative Council speaker Muharuddin at the Central Jakarta District Court.
The government has only made empty promises despite the group's push for KEL protection since 2013, Farwiza Farhan, chairperson of Forest, Nature and Environment Aceh (HAKA), said on Wednesday.
"We want the promises to be legally binding, so we took the matter to court," Farwiza told journalists at a press conference.
Three mediation attempts with the government resulted in a deadlock one month after the lawsuit was filed. The lawyer for the Aceh administration refused to continue negotiating and suggested that the case be taken to court, Farwiza said.
A lack of political will from the local government hampered the group's efforts in demanding KEL preservation, she added, with local officials having the tendency to accommodate the interests of business players rather than that of citizens.
"In the last few years, the Aceh administration has issued more permits and land clearing has continued, with land being converted to oil palm plantations," Farwiza said.
GeRAM member Abu Kari said the group aimed to fight for KEL to be included in the Spatial Planning Bylaw. As one of Asia's largest carbon sinks, KEL protection was important for the environmental balance in Aceh, he said.
Not only the general citizens, indigenous people living in the forests depend their lives in the unique tropical rainforest area where endangered species such as elephant, Sumatran rhinos, orangutan and Sumatran tigers all live in one habitat. (rin)