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Indonesian Court shuts down legal challenge to Aceh land-use plan

​29 November 2016 / Mongabay.com

A defeat for those who had hoped to secure the protected status of the archipelago country’s Leuser Ecosystem, one of the region’s last great swaths of intact rainforest.

Indonesian court shuts down legal challenge to Aceh land-use plan

  • The Central Jakarta District Court ruled against a class-action lawsuit filed by nine plaintiffs from Indonesia’s westernmost Aceh province.
  • The lawsuit had asked the court to force the Aceh government to include the nationally protected Leuser Ecosystem in its allegedly illegal land-use plan.
  • The Aceh government has characterized Leuser’s protected status as an imposition on its right to develop and argued that it can zone the province how it likes, without Jakarta’s approval.
  • The plaintiffs said they would appeal.

In a blow to rainforest conservation on Indonesia’s main western island of Sumatra, a court today dismissed a class-action lawsuit aiming to force the Aceh provincial government to mention the Leuser Ecosystem in its land-use plan.

The decision is a major roadblock for conservationists across the world and for citizens of Aceh who had hoped to secure the protected status of what is one of the archipelago country’s last great swaths of intact rainforest, home to critically endangered rhinos, tigers, elephants and orangutans.

Five million people rely for clean water on Leuser’s forests, which also constitute a bulwark against natural disasters. Deforestation in Aceh Tamiang district, for example, caused flash floods that displaced tens of thousands of people in 2006.

International notoriety around the plan to undermine Leuser’s protected status increased earlier this year when Leonardo DiCaprio visited the area and was threatened with deportation after calling for its conservation on social media. The rainforest was featured in DiCaprio’s recent documentary about climate change, “Before the Flood.”

From 2001-2014, the region comprising the Leuser Ecosystem lost 145,000 hectares of tree cover, according to Global Forest Watch data. This includes both deforestation and tree plantation harvesting. The region lost around 63,000 hectares of primary forest, which is about 3 percent of its primary forest cover.
From 2001-2014, the region comprising the Leuser Ecosystem lost 145,000 hectares of tree cover, according to Global Forest Watch data. This includes both deforestation and tree plantation harvesting. The region lost around 63,000 hectares of primary forest, which is about 3 percent of its primary forest cover.

The central government in Jakarta has designated the Leuser Ecosystem as a “national strategic area.” But the Aceh government has ignored that mandate on the grounds that its “special territory” status, earned after a decades-long separatist war, allows it to zone the province how it wants.

Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah’s administration has characterized the protected status as an imposition from Jakarta that undermines the province’s right to develop.

The plaintiffs argued that the Aceh government had broken the law by failing both to obtain Jakarta’s approval for the plan and to legitimately consult with the public before pushing it through.

Leonardo DiCaprio, right, posted this photo on his Instagram page after his visit to Leuser last weekend. Farwiza Farhan, left, chairs Forest, Nature and Environment Aceh (HAkA), an NGO, and Rudi Putra, center, is a biologist who received the prestigious Goldman Prize in 2014.
Leonardo DiCaprio, right, posted this photo on his Instagram page after his visit to Leuser last weekend. Farwiza Farhan, left, chairs Forest, Nature and Environment Aceh (HAkA), an NGO, and Rudi Putra, center, is a biologist who received the prestigious Goldman Prize in 2014.

The Central Jakarta District Court based its decision on its determination that Leuser did not need to be included in the land-use plan because it was already zoned as a conservation area. Such areas are protected from development unless the Ministry of Environment and Forestry chooses to open to them up.

The court also asserted that a class-action suit cannot be used to challenge a provincial zoning law, because that is the domain of Indonesia’s Constitutional Court. Plaintiff Farwiza Farhan disputed that logic because her side had only asked the court to force the Aceh government to include the Leuser Ecosystem in the plan, not to cancel it entirely.

“We will definitely appeal,” Farhan, who also chairs Forest, Nature and Environment of Aceh (HAkA), an NGO, told Mongabay.