Update: Indonesian Court Fails to Protect Critical Orangutan Stronghold

By Rainforest Action Network
Tripa Peat Forest ablaze

It’s a sad day today for the few remaining, critically endangered orangutans of Sumatra. In a much anticipated court ruling in the high-stakes case filed against palm oil plantation company PT Kallista Alam and the governor of the Province of Aceh for illegally draining and clearing the internationally renowned Tripa Peat Forest, the judges have decided to throw out the case all together. After five months of arguments and deliberations, the three-judge court washed its hands of the case and declared that Environmental group WALHI should have sought mediation with the palm oil company first, before filing the case.

This decision comes as a huge disappointment to environmentalists and orangutan lovers around the world. The rapid and ongoing deforestation of Tripa swamp, which reached a new peak last week when the forest was intentionally set ablaze, causing hundreds of fires, is an urgent and international issue.

This vital ecosystem not only provides home to many endangered animals, but also helps to regulate our global climate — meaning this court decision will affect life all over the world. By throwing out the case, the Aceh court has failed to protect the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan and to fulfill its obligation to uphold Indonesia’s laws. It’s unclear why the court didn’t request mediation between WALHI and PT Kallista Alam earlier. “The longer we wait, the worse the situation is getting in Tripa,” a lawyer for the complainants told the press after the hearing.

According to the press release from the Coalition to Save Tripa Peat Forest: “While the court case has dragged on in Banda Aceh, the peat forests of Tripa have continued to suffer widespread damage. An illegally dug canal in the contested concession continues to drain the swamp of its water increasing the fire danger in the protected area. Over the last weeks this has escalated with huge man made fires tearing through Tripa for 9 days, making headlines worldwide, with experts warning the local orangutan population could become extinct before the end of the year.”

Canals dug to drain peatThere are many layers of Indonesian laws that protect Tripa since it is part of the world renowned Leuser Ecosystem, comprised of deep peat (which is illegal to clear) and home to critically endangered animal species — not to mention the 2007 Moratorium on Logging and 2008 National Spatial plan which prohibit deforestation of this forest. WALHI is planning to appeal this court decision. Berry Nahdian Forqan, National Director of WALHI, says: “All our efforts to save our environment will never succeed as long as the Government fails to ensure that all the various state and law enforcement agencies demonstrate a strong commitment to enforcement of environmental laws, and prioritize our environment and the ordinary citizens of this country over vested business interests.”

After thousands of you signed the petition calling for the law to be enforced and this peatland to be saved, the chairman of the REDD+ Taskforce, Presidential Advisor Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, sent a team of lawyers to Tripa to investigate. They are now on the ground and collecting evidence. Community groups have also filed for a local police investigation. Please continue to call on President Yudhoyono to bring justice to Tripa.

Meanwhile, PT Kallista Alam shows no intention of stopping the crisis in Tripa. PT Kallista Alam’s legal team “stated satisfaction over the court ruling.” If the judicial system in Aceh Province fails to uphold the law, who has the power to stop this tragedy? The expansion, clearing, and burning must stop. Tripa needs real protection and President Yudhoyono needs to stand by his commitment to protect the environment. And it’s time for the companies supplying palm oil from Tripa to take action to stop their role in this tragedy.