On 5 September 2023, the Jakarta State Administrative Court (PTUN) rejected a lawsuit filed by the palm oil companies PT Megakarya Jaya Raya and PT Kartika Cipta Pratama against the Indonesian Minister of Environment and Forestry, Mrs Siti Nurbaya Bakar. The verdict has significant implications for the rights of indigenous peoples and the principle of free prior informed consent (FPIC).
The palm oil companies filed the lawsuit after the Minister of Environment and Forestry revoked their concession licenses through a decree in early 2022. The land which the companies claim for their operations belongs to the Awyu Tribe in the South Papua Province. The palm oil companies operate in the Awyu’s customary land around Digoel and Mappi Rivers in the Boven Digoel Regency.
Following the court’s ruling, 65,415 hectares of native rainforest within the concessions of PT Megakarya Jaya Raya and PT Kartika Cipta Pratama must be returned to the Awyu people. The verdict prevents the companies from deforesting the area, limiting them to conduct their business operations only within the 8,828 hectares of forest land that the two companies have already cleared.
The Awyu people and their legal team have played a crucial role in supporting the government’s stance in this lawsuit. During the trial process, the Awyu emphasized the importance of recognizing their customary land rights and their ability to protect and manage their ancestral forests for their livelihoods and future generations.
The case sets a precedent for protecting indigenous land rights and preserving vital rainforests in Indonesia. The decision weakens the legal position of investors. It underlines the Government’s obligation to respect and protect the rights of indigenous communities, reminding companies of their obligation to obtain the communities’ free prior informed consent when making decisions concerning land and the use of resources.
Since 2019, the Awyu indigenous community has raised concerns about the loss of customary forest due to PT IAL’s operations. There have been pros and cons, criminalisation efforts, and threats of violence against residents involving police officers and company operators.
Based on information circulating that the Foreign Capital Company (PMA) PT Indo Siana Lestari from Malaysia has obtained a location permit issued by the Regent of Boven Digoel and a Plantation Business permit issued by the DPMPTSP of Papua Province. However, the Awyu indigenous community has never received the permit information document and has never approved the company’s plan.
IAL’s concession is part of the Tanah Merah megaproject that is already dogged by allegations that key operating permits have been falsified. And according to Hendrikus Woro, the problems with PT IAL began in 2017 when it started approaching local communities.
In March 2023, the Awyu tribe accompanied by the Papua Legal Aid Institute (LBH) filed a lawsuit at the Jayapura State Administrative Court (PTUN) concerning an environmental permit issued for palm oil company PT Indo Asiana Lestari (PT IAL) by the Papuan Investment and One-Stop Integrated Service Office (DPMPTSP). The lawsuit was filed at the Jayapura State Administrative Court (see photo, credit Gusti Tanati/ Greenpeace) because the local government allegedly withheld information about PT IAL’s licences, whose concessions would annex their customary territory.