West Papuan Indigenous defender files lawsuit over palm oil company forest land grab

The Awyu Indigenous plaintiffs demonstrating as they register their lawsuit. Image" Greenpeace
Pusaka Bentala Rakyat | 14 March 2023

Press Release - Advocacy Team to Save Papua's Forests

West Papuan Indigenous defender files lawsuit over palm oil company forest land grab

Indigenous leader, Hendrikus'Franky' Woro, today filed an environmental and land rights lawsuit challenging the plan by a Malaysian-owned palm oil company to clear tens of thousands of hectares of West Papuan forest.

The lawsuit at theJayapura State Administrative Court calls for the revocation of a permit issued by the Papua provincial government to PT Indo Asiana Lestari (PT IAL) covering traditional Indigenous land of which Franky Woro is a joint owner.“We are customary owners of this land, but were not properly informed about the company planned activities. We were also not consulted in any Environmental Impact Analysis," said Franky Woro.

Franky is the leader of the Woro clan, part of the Awyu people (also written ‘Auyu’). The Woroclan lives in Yare Village, Fofi District, in the richly forested Boven Digoel district located in the remote southeasternmost corner of the Indonesian territory known internationally as West Papua.

He filed the lawsuit because the provincial government withheld information about the permits it granted to PT IAL, whose concession includes the lands of the Woro clan. As Greenpeace reported inLicence to Clear: The Dark Side of Permitting in West Papua, PTIAL obtained a preliminary location permit for an oil palm plantation in 2017 covering an area of 39,190 hectares.

PT IAL is owned by a Malaysian shell company suspected to be under the ultimate control of All Asia Agro, which also owns oil palm operations in Malaysia’s Sabah state. The area of land that PT IAL intends to convert into a palm oil plantation was originally the northernmost part of the notorious and now abandoned Tanah Merah/Menara Group project.

In the lawsuit lodged today, Franky Woro asks for the court to revoke PT IAL's environmental permit. “The environment permit was issued based on an improper Environmental ImpactAnalysis, ignoring the existence of customary Indigenous owners, and flawed because it was not accompanied by a conservation analysis. The result will be environmental damage and infringement of Indigenous Peoples’ rights," said lawyer Tigor Hutapea, part of the Advocacy Team to Save Papua's Forests.

The environmental permit is also out of step with Indonesia’s promise to tackle climate change. According to Indonesia’s Enhanced Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement, the government is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 31 per cent, or 43 per cent with international financial support, by 2030. Indonesia’s largest source of emissions is from land use and deforestation, yet the issuance of PT IAL's environment permit is expected to trigger the deforestation of 26,326 hectares of primary forest.
"The potential deforestation emission due to this project is approximately 23 million tonnes of CO2. This would be five per cent of the nation’s annual carbon emission level in 2030,” said Greenpeace Indonesia’s Sekar Banjaran Aji, a member of the legal team. Many Awyu fear the imposition of a palm oil plantation will destroy their customary forest and livelihoods, as has happened elsewhere in West Papua.

The landscape covered by PT IAL’s permit is not only the place where the Awyu People find food, medicine and earn financial income, but it is also a habitat for flora and fauna endemic to Papua. For the Awyu IndigenousPeople, their forests are also entwined with their cultural identity.“We are not short of examples warning us of the disaster that follows the loss of customary forests in Papua after the government grants permits for oil palm plantations and timber extraction.

This must stop because it will only further marginalize Indigenous Papuans. Papua'sforests are also the largest rainforest remaining in Indonesia," said Emanuel Gobay, lawyer from the Advocacy Team to Save Papua's Indigenous Forests

Media contacts:
Emanuel Gobay, LBH Papua, +62 821-9950-7613
Tigor Hutapea, Yayasan Pusaka Bentala Rakyat, +62 812-8729-6684
Sekar Banjaran Aji, Greenpeace Indonesia, +62 812-8776-9880
Maikel Primus Peuki, Walhi Papua, +62 822-4800-0233
Igor O’Neill, Greenpeace Indonesia, [email protected] +61-414-288-424
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