AMAN accuses oil palm and pulp companies of rampant deforestation

Customary protected forest, Meratus, Kalimantan (Photo: DTE)

DTE 96-97, December2013

Despite progress in international policies and the regulatory frameworks, despite commitments from political financial and industry leaders, these businesses are responsible for rampant forest destruction for oil palm and timber plantations, stealing from indigenous peoples, encroaching on their lands and resources, and destroying their culture and identity.

This was the message heard by business and government representatives attending a Jakarta workshop in June, to Promote Sustainability and Productivity in the Palm Oil and Pulp & Paper Sectors. The message was conveyed by Abdon Nababan, the Secretary General of AMAN, Indonesia’s indigenous peoples’ alliance.

Quoting directly an indigenous leader of the Muara Tae Dayak Benuaq community in East Kalimantan, Nababan reminded those attending the June workshop that Indonesia’s deforestation rate is still more than 1.5 million hectares a year. This, he said, corresponds to 74% of the country’s CO2 emissions, despite a pledge by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to reduce Indonesia’s emission by 26%. Demolishing customary forests and turning them into oil palm plantations, in complete violation of international human rights standards, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and Indonesia’s own criminal law, is happening right now in Muara Tae in East Kalimantan, he said, and in many other places in Indonesia. Meanwhile corruption and forest crimes are as bad as ever, and forest fires continue to choke much of Sumatra, Malaysia and Singapore every year.

Referring to a new ‘dawn of customary forests in Indonesia’ thanks to the Constitutional Court’s decision to take indigenous peoples’ customary forests out of the state forest zone,[1] Nababan said it would be indigenous peoples’ duty to ‘outperform’ government agencies in preventing deforestation as well as to share their ‘centuries-deep knowledge of how to care for and protect our forests.’

“Your duty, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, is to gain the consent of indigenous peoples for investments and development activities to be carried out within our territories. This will require your patience, good faith, and a framework for genuine consent to be based on complete information, transparency, and in the end the acceptance of both government and private sector of the right of indigenous peoples to say NO to destructive development models that are harmful to all of us and mother earth.”

(Source: Tropical Forest Alliance 2020: Promoting Sustainability and Productivity in the Palm Oil and Pulp & Paper Sectors Workshop, Jakarta, 27 June 2013. Remarks by Abdon Nababan, Sectretary General of Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of Indonesia’s Archipelago (AMAN).

Support Petisi 35!

AMAN is collecting signatures from groups and individuals in support of a petition for speedy implementation of the Indonesian Constitutional Court’s decision 35, 2013. This is the ruling

that reaffirms that customary forests are forests located in Indigenous territories and should no

longer be considered as State forests.

Sign up to support the petition at


President SBY sued by Riau villagers, WALHI

On the same day that MEPs voted on agrofuel amendments in Europe, eight villagers from Riau – one of Indonesia’s oil palm centres and a region which has been plagued by choking forest fires - sued Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY). Mongabay reported that on September 11th, the villagers sued the president and a number of other officials over the impacts of climate change and environmental destruction in the province. They say they have suffered health problems, experienced financial loss and seen a decline in their quality of life due to forest and peatland clearing. They blamed logging and plantation companies for the destruction of Riau’s forests and peatlands. The villagers’ lawsuit which is supported by local NGOs Jiklahari, Telapak Riau and the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law, also names Indonesia’s forestry and environment ministers, plus Riau’s provincial governor.[2]

The following month, WALHI (Friends of the Earth Indonesia) also announced that it was suing President SBY. A statement released on October 9th said the group was filing a suit against SBY and 19 aides over the continuous forest fires in Sumatra.

Abetnego Tarigan, National Executive Director of WALHI said the group was taking this action against the President “to remind him and his administration to their constitutional obligation to protect the Indonesian environment and its peoples' rights to healthy environment as part of human rights."

WALHI also points to plantations – in particular oil palm and pulp wood plantations - as major contributors to the deteriorating environmental situation in Sumatra. Seasons that have for a long time been the reference for people's agriculture and traditions have changed into seasons of disasters, with floods, haze, food and water crises becoming an annual occurrence, bringing suffering to the people, he said. [3]

[1] For background see A turning point for Indonesia’s indigenous peoples, DTE update, 7/Jun/2013.

[2] ‘Indonesian villagers sue president over climate change’, Diane Parker, Mongabay-Indonesia, 11/Sep/2013.

[3] ‘Taking Environment and People for granted, WALHI sues Indonesian President and his 18 aides’ WALHI, 9/Oct/2013,