Less than one week after a historic victory saw the Governor of Aceh finally revoke the license of an illegally operating palm oil company, a coalition of NGO’s claim that five more companies continue to destroy swamp areas inside Tripa, Indonesia.
The revocation was welcomed by Wahli (Friends of the Earth Indonesia), an environmental watchdog group operating under the Coalition to Save Tripa Peat Swamp Forest fighting for permit revocation in the Tripa peat swamp area of Aceh for months. But now the coalition says, five companies bolstered by financial incentive, still continue to break the law in Tripa by clearing protected forests.
In a press release to Digital Journal, Kamarrudin, the lawyer representing local people and the environment in the Tripa case, said:
There are strong indications that the enforcement of the law in the Tripa case has been "hijacked" by the financial power of corporations operating in the Tripa peat swamps. This can be seen in the less than optimal work of the provincial and national police, and the investigators of the Ministry of the Environment.
Kamarrudin is referring to the lack of progression by authorities over an investigation into illegal operations that began in November 2011. "We will not be frozen by those with vested interests in the law enforcement and government agencies," Kamarrudin explained, "we also hold the Ministry of the Environment to its promise to launch criminal and administrative against companies that have committed serious environmental crimes in the Tripa peat swamps".
Dr. Ian Singleton, Conservation Director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP), points to the forest concession known as Dua Perkasa Lestari (DPL), which has been marked as off-limits in all three releases of the Government’s moratorium map.
The map, a tool designed to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and degradation, revealed that "satellite imagery taken last week, clearly shows that burning and illegal clearing of Tripa’s peat swamp forests is still taking place," said Dr. Singleton. "Furthermore," he added, "the DPL area has no clear HGU (Land Cultivation Title) permit, it clearly lies within the Leuser Ecosystem protected by National Spatial Planning law 26/2007, and it contains peat over 3m deep."
Other major burning culprits said the coalition are PT.SPS2, PT DPL and PT KA. Riswan Zen, a Senior GIS mapping expert from the University of North Sumatra said these companies require "greater attention" because their actions are in "violation of Law No. 32/2009 on the Environmental Protection and Management."
The Tripa peat swamps are seen as a critical part of the Leuser ecosystem and are one of the largest remaining natural habitats in the world for the Sumatran orangutan. Many of the apes have already languished in illegal fires sparked by companies who strip the land then plant seedlings to harvest palm oil. But just as important say experts, is the critical role peat swamps play in the environment.
"Peat swamp forests store huge amounts of carbon," explained SOCP, "both in the above ground vegetation, but also below ground, in the deep peat layers, and their destruction contributes significantly to global climate change."
Adnan NS, a prominent Community leader from Aceh added:
Despite the recent cancellation of the PT Kallista Alam permit, and ongoing investigations into violations of the law by this and other companies in Tripa, on the ground nothing has changed yet. Community livelihoods continue to be destroyed, even though local community leaders traveled all the way to Jakarta to report this to the national police back in November 2011. We are still waiting for action and demand to know why their testimonies have been ignored.
Deddy Ratih, Forest Campaigner for Walhi, explained:
This continues to be a the leading test case for a National problem. While the revocation of PT Kallista Alam is a step in the right direction, there is still much more action required by police and Government to resolve the problems in Tripa. The Ministry of Environment continues to investigate a raft of the envrionmental crimes in Tripa with no end in sight, meanwhile, the legal testimonies of local communities to the National Police continue to be ignored.
Good news for the coalition however, is public interest on the state of the peat swamps remains high Dr. Singleton said:
Over the last two months, I’ve been on speaking tours of both the USA and Australia, and all around the world people are continually asking me about the situation in Tripa. International interest in the governance of Indonesia's remaining forests and rapidly declining wild species populations is extremely high.
My message is clear - anyone with a computer can now check on forest clearance in Indonesia, measure and quantify it, and get daily updates on illegal fires, and circulate that information globally.
As individuals we have never before had access to so much quantifiable information in other parts of the world or the ability to share it so widely and people around the world continue to be extremely alarmed and concerned about Tripa, as what they see is that so far nothing has yet changed. Unless the destruction is halted very very quickly, we are still likely to see the local extinction of Sumatran Orangutans from Tripa in the very near future.
Usman Hamid of Change.org Indonesia, revealed that over 25,000 people had signed a petition calling for immediate action to halt the destruction of Tripa’s unique ecosystem. It helped in the recent closure of the illegal PT Kallista Alam concession.
"Now we, together with the local community, are launching a new petition" Hamid explained, "calling on Indonesia’s National Police to support the findings of the REDD+ Taskforce and the Ministry of Environment, and immediately escalate the cases under investigation to formal prosecutions. Much more still needs to be done to protect the remaining forests of Tripa, Aceh, and Indonesia as a whole," he said.
Melanie Subono who signed the first Tripa petition said "I’m proud to have signed the petition to save Tripa and to see our laws finally being enforced. It's up to all of us to take action to protect the environment, and it can be as simple as signing a petition online, sharing it with your friends, tweeting and using social media to make our country a better place for all Indonesians."
Subano who plans to visit the Tripa peat swamps within the next month, added that she sincerely hopes that before she gets there, "the National Police will have finally begun to take action on this globally important issue."
The Save Tripa 2 petition can be signed at Change.org.