Indonesian court rules to save Indigenous ancestral lands from palm oil companies’ exploitation

Indigenous West Papua

An Indigenous group in Indonesia’s West Papua province is celebrating a ruling that saves their ancestral lands spanning tens of thousands of hectares from palm oil exploitation.

Driving the news: On Tuesday, the Jayapura Administrative Court in West Papua ruled in favor of Sorong Regency head Johny Kamuru, who was sued after revoking permits that allowed over a dozen palm oil companies to turn Indigenous forest areas into plantations. 

  • Kamuru canceled the permits in April after Indigenous groups reported that they had not consented to the conversion of their land, according to Al Jazeera. The cancellation was recommended by the provincial government in February, which suggested the lands be returned to their Indigenous owners for sustainable management, according to Greenpeace Indonesia.
  • Kamuru was sued by three companies whose property claim stretched over 90,031 hectares (222,471 acres), as per Greenpeace Indonesia; however, the land was originally claimed by the Moi people, who had been fighting to retrieve them for years.
  • “Our friends in Java can cultivate rice. But we in Papua, we depend on our forests,” Moi chief Paulus Safisa said in October, as per Mongabay. “For the Moi Indigenous people, forests are like their birth mother who breastfeeds them every day. Or like their backbone. If it’s broken, we can’t walk and live. It’s the same as death.”
  • Moi advocates reportedly celebrated in front of the local district office following the ruling. Ambrosisus Klagilit, advocacy coordinator of the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) in Sorong, told Al Jazeera that the decision “assures our future and our lands.”

The big picture: Indonesia is the world’s largest producer and exporter of palm oil, according to Statista. In West Papua, plantation permits have undergone evaluation since 2018, according to West Papua Daily.

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  • As of August, a total of approximately 680,000 hectares (1.68 million acres) of concessions were reportedly evaluated from 24 companies. Of these, 330,000 hectares (815,448 acres) across districts such as Sorong, South Sorong, Bintuni Bay, Fakfak, South Manokwari and Wondama Bay have been revoked.
  • The evaluations are the result of a mandate from President Joko Widodo. They are supposed to be administered by the Coordinating Ministry for Economic Affairs and the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, but neither have released public comment, formal representation or expert evidence to support the revocations in Sorong, Greenpeace Indonesia reported.

Featured Image via Raja Drone ID

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