Jayapura court rejects lawsuit by Awyu tribe over palm oil permit, advocates prepare to appeal

On 2 November 2023, the Jayapura State Administrative Court (PTUN Jayapura) rejected a lawsuit filed by the indigenous Awyu Tribe in Papua Province (see photo, credit Gusti Tanati/ Greenpeace). The lawsuit was related to an environmental feasibility permit issued by the Investment and One-Stop Integrated Service Office (DPMPTSP) for PT Indo Asiana Lestari (PT IAL) to develop oil palm plantations covering 36,096.4 hectares in the Mandobo and Fofi Districts in Boven Digoel Regency, South Papua Province. The Awyu Tribe argued that the permit was issued without their knowledge or consent.

The panel of judges, led by Merna Cinthia SH MH, along with member judges Yusup Klemen SH and Donny Poja SH, declared the lawsuit unreasonable and rejected it. They argued that the procedure and substance of the Environmental Impact Analysis (AMDAL) issuance did not contradict laws and regulations or the principles of good governance. As a result, PT IAL’s environmental feasibility permit was declared valid.

Emanuel Gobay, a lawyer for the Awyu Tribe, expressed dissatisfaction with the judge’s decision, stating that it did not align with environmental law principles. Mr Gobay pointed out that the judges did not adequately consider the substance of the problematic AMDAL document and rejected requests for field inspections. The legal team also intended to evaluate the judge’s attitude in deciding the case.

Furthermore, Tigor Hutapea, a member of the Papuan Customary Law Enforcement Coalition, argued that the judges erred by accepting an investment support letter from the Indigenous Peoples’ Agency (LMA) of Boven Digoel as meaningful participation. He emphasised that LMA had an unclear legal status and did not represent the indigenous Awyu people and the Woro clan. According to Hutapea, LMA had no authority to approve the release of forests belonging to indigenous peoples, disregarding the principle of free, prior, and informed consent from affected communities.

The lawsuit received significant support from various communities and organisations. A petition compiled by the Solidarity Movement to Save Papua’s Customary Forests garnered signatures from 73 institutions and 94 individuals, demonstrating widespread backing for the Awyu Tribe’s cause.

Dr Totok Dwi Diantoro, an expert witness for the Awyu Tribe, emphasised that indigenous peoples’ consent is a fundamental requirement for permits related to business activities in their customary areas. This requirement is in line with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which enshrines the principle of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) as a right of Indigenous peoples when dealing with new activities in their territories.

Related case information: https://humanrightsmonitor.org/news/awyu-indigenous-community-sue-papua-dpmptsp-office-over-right-to-information-about-palm-oil-companys-permit/ and https://humanrightsmonitor.org/news/leader-of-woro-clan-awyu-people-files-lawsuit-concerning-palm-oil-company-pt-ial-permits/