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article imageOp-Ed: Indonesia court ruling on palm oil case is a cop out

By Elizabeth Batt     Apr 3, 2012 in Environment
Banda Aceh - An Indonesian court has refused to rule on a lawsuit brought by conservationists trying to protect orang-utans in the Tripa forest on the coast of Aceh province. The decision, or lack thereof, is a devastating blow for the apes.
On Saturday, Digital Journal reported how devastating fires deliberately set by palm oil companies in Indonesia may have killed hundreds of Sumatran orang-utans. The land grab said the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, meant the creatures could have only weeks or a few months, before disappearing forever.
Currently over ninety-two fires believed set by palm oil company employees, are burning out of control in the Tripa swamp rainforest of Indonesia, said Rainforest Portal.org. So far, they have killed an estimated 100 orang-utans and "could extirpate the entire local population, killing off some 200 orang-utans within weeks," they added.
Reports even suggested that palm oil companies had placed a bounty of around $100 for the head of an orang-utan. And company employees were accused of forcing fleeing orang-utans back into the burning forest, to their deaths.
The permit issued to palm oil company PT Kallista Alam by Aceh Governor Irwardi Yusuf, granted the company the right to develop a 1,600-hectare (3,950-acre) oil palm plantation in the heart of Tripa peat swamp. An area which environmentalists say, is critical habitat for Sumatran orangutans, and one of the largest remaining natural habitats in the world.
The legality of the permit was challenged by Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia (WAHLI), a coalition of Indonesian NGOs. The lawsuit which was filed in Banda Aceh, claimed that development of the Tripa peat swamp, would "spawn substantial greenhouse gas emissions" and would "breach a ban on plantation development in deep peat areas," said RedApes.org.
Furthermore, added the organization, the concession was allegedly granted without the consent of local communities, and:
"Was issued despite prohibitions about clearing the forest area, which was initially listed as "off-limits" under the national moratorium enacted last year and is also protected under its designation as part of the Leuser Ecosystem."
Activists urged the court for a "just decision," yet despite a massive push which included a 48-hr Twitter Jam and 166,557 protest emails from people in 97 countries, the Indonesian court threw out the case.
Yep. Just threw it out.
Whether it was easier or because money talks, the Banda Aceh Administrative Court said late Tuesday evening, it had no authority to rule on the case because the parties involved haven’t tried to solve the case outside of court.
The ruling, said the Washington Post, means the parties could attempt mediation."
Mediation. I kid you not.
How the heck do you mediate the imminent extinction of a species that only has a few months or weeks left; or compromise on something that could never be replaced?
The ruling was a cop out, plain and simple, but thankfully WAHLI isn't planning on letting it stand. The environmental watchdog of Indonesia, says it will appeal to the high court instead. And we must support them.
One permit, one signature, one act of greed and one species destined for extinction with the sweep of a pen. In this case, it truly is mightier than the sword.
It shouldn't be surprising, not really. Indonesia's disregard for many of its natural resources has always been tragic. In February for example, Digital Journal wrote about the government's refusal to put an end to dolphin traveling circuses, and the Bali tiger and the Javan tiger are just two of several species that have been forced into extinction.
Even the country's Sumatran tiger is critically endangered; all of these species reached this status because of habitat loss and hunting. One Green Planet.org reports:
"31.1 % of all species in Indonesia are endemic with 9.9% of the total number of species threatened by poaching, logging and agricultural development. The sheer scale of diversity makes Indonesia’s rainforests one of the most important ecosystems in our world today."
At the turn of the 20th century, the organization adds, 170 million hectares of dense primary rainforest covered the archipelago. Less than 98 million hectares remain and 700,000- 850,000 hectares are destroyed each year. Native orang-utans are currently found only in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra.
Conservation groups are pleading for public support for WAHLI in its quest to save this critically endangered species. Several petitions are available online: Change.org; Act Ran; Rainforest Rescue; Rainforest Portal and, The Petition Site.
Facebook group, RedApes, is asking the public to send a direct message to the President of Indonesia, Dr. H. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, urging him to take action.
Finally, writes One Green Planet.org, ensure any items bought containing palm oil, are from sustainable sources such as Golden Agri-Resources Limited (GAR). "Last year," they said, "GAR, the world’s second largest palm oil producer, agreed to source all of it’s palm oil from sustainable sources."
SayNotoPalm Oil.com, said they have a product list of items containing palm oil accessible online. They suggest people query and target companies over the use of palm oil in their products, and whether they purchase it from sustainable sources.
"Meanwhile," reports Sean Whyte of The Ape Crusaders, "the fires continue to burn." The Coalition to save Tripa Peat Forest added in a press release:
"The Judges’ ruling took over an hour to read, with the key finding that: the Administrative Court in Aceh does not have the authority to examine WALHI Aceh’s challenge to the permit."
“If this legal challenge had no legal basis, then why wasn’t it rejected at the beginning?” said T.Muhammad Zulfikar, Director of WALHI Aceh, who pointed to Article 53 of the Law on National Administration saying the court was legally obliged to hear and rule on the case.
Zulfikar accused the judges of distorting the course of justice, demonstrating he said:
"The extent to which they are prepared to go to avoid taking sides with common people and environmental justice."
The director added, "there is no doubt we will be appealing this appalling decision. The longer we wait, the worse the situation is getting in Tripa. The judge clearly does not understand the process of law."
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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