House to endorse controversial deforestation bill

Margareth S. Aritonang, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | National | Tue, April 09 2013, 10:11 AM
The House of Representatives is expected to endorse the bill on combating deforestation later this week despite mounting criticisms that the bill could be used by the authorities to prosecute members of indigenous communities who have lived off the country’s forests for generations.

The bill, which has been discussed at the House Commission IV overseeing forestry, agriculture, plantations and fisheries since 2010, will grant the Forestry Ministry the authority to determine forest areas, issue permits for business exploitation of the forests, as well as bringing criminal charges against those carrying out illegal activities in the forest area, including illegal logging.

Article 15 of the bill, for example, makes it mandatory for anybody conducting any activity in forests to secure permit from the ministry.

The article also obliges any individual or party to secure permit from the ministry to open a plantation project.

Other articles, including Article 82, 83 and 84 also require people to obtain a permit from the ministry in order to carry out activities in the country’s forests, including in using timber, or risk of being sentenced to 15 years in prison or fines of up to Rp 14 billion (US$1.43 million).

Article 82 of the bill carries a penalty of between five and 15 years in prison for anybody found guilty of running illegal plantations in the forest.

Meanwhile, those found guilty of running illegal logging will be sentenced between two and 15 years imprisonment or a fine of between Rp 1 billion and Rp 7.5 billion, according to Article 84.

A coalition of environmental and rights groups has called for the House to put off the endorsement of the bill, saying that it was indigenous communities that are targeted by the bill.

Data from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) said that currently, there were 33,000 villages set up inside or in the vicinity of forests.

The coalition said that the bill would encourage the government to neglect indigenous communities in favor of business.

“The bill has to give a clear definition of those who could be prosecuted for forestry crimes in order to protect indigenous groups from over being criminalized for living forests. These people are not a threat to the forests, these people have in fact helped protect our forests,” Rahma Mary from the Society for Ecology-based Law Reform (Huma) told Commission IV in a meeting on Monday.

Rahma said that the bill, if endorsed, could easily be a target of a judicial review given its flawed provisions.

The coalition also accused the House of running a “clandestine” operation to pass the bill.

“It seems that Commission IV has discussed the bill in secrecy to deny participation from members of the public. We became aware of this bill only very recently,” she added.

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) has also called on the House not to endorse the bill, saying that it could violate the basic rights of indigenous communities.

Commission IV said that they could accept proposals for a change in the bill before Thursday.

“Please don’t have doubt on our commitment to uphold the rights of the people. We know what we’re doing. We are representatives of the people so of course we will fight for the people,” Commission IV deputy chairman Herman Khaeron of the Democratic Party said.


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