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Deforestation and its impacts toward Indigenous Papuans

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Drone footage of the border between untouched land and the land cleared by Korindo on its Papua Agro Lestari concessions in Merauke – mighty.com

By : Julian Howay (*)

THE island of New Guinea or Papua in the South Pacific has a largely unspoiled tropical forest (75%). These forests were formed over thousands of years ago and spread from the lowlands, valleys, hills to the towering mountains. For outsiders, the largely virgin tropical forest of Papua holds a number of mysteries.

Forest exoticism on the island has become the last bastion of life providers for biodiversity in Indonesia and internationally. Not surprisingly, the powerful ocean explorers from Europe, China, Arabia and India who first landed on this land dubbed the island of New Guinea (Papua) as a dazzling world paradise that just began to be explored in the 19th century. The high value of biodiversity makes many natural scientists know Papua as the Major Tropical Wilderness Area (TWA), beside Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The total area of ​​tropical forests of the island of New Guinea (Papua) is about 73.8 million hectares (80%) of the land area or 22 percent of the land area of ​​Indonesia. From this total area, neighboring state of Papua New Guinea (PNG) in the east has 34 million hectares or 70 percent of the country’s territory. By this amount, approximately 25,211,000 hectares (55 percent) are primary forests and the rest are secondary forests.

Because of the important benefit of the forests, fundamentally the life of indigenous Papuans can not be separated from the natural environment such as land, water, oxygen and forests. For thousands of years, these forests have been the main provider of life for at least 1,187 indigenous tribes who inhabit the island of New Guinea (Papua). Divided between 312 indigenous tribes in western New Guinea (West Papua) which is now part of Indonesia and 875 tribes in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

In the view of the Papuans, the nature of which belongs to the land and the forest is like a “life-giving mother.” In the life of a traditional sub-system living, the forests function as “natural supermarkets” which provide various food needs, the place of ritual actualization culture, entertainment, and as place to give them inspiration about life. Therefore, when the land and its natural resources such as forests are expropriated or damaged, Papuans as part of world indigenous people will suffer and are deprived of their cultural identity.

Unfortunately, the existence of tropical forests in Papua continues to shrink as degradation and deforestation rates occur over time. In the life of a traditional sub-system living, illegal logging and improper forest management of local people have caused the destruction of forests in Papua getting worsening. It could even say that it has entered an “emergency status.” Deforestation began in the 1980s when general Soeharto, the Indonesian Government military dictatorship issued a political economy policies that supported development and investment. But these policies were not friendly to the environment and local people who live around the forest.

From the total 73.8 million hectares of Papua’s forest area recorded in 2005, it is now drastically reduced. West Papua as a region on the western part of New Guinea is now the largest contributor to deforestation compared to neighboring state of Papua New Guinea (PNG) in the east. In 2005-2009, Papua’s forest area ranged from 42.22 million hectares. But three years later in 2011, it has experienced degradation to the remaining 30.07 million hectares.

Average deforestation rate in Papua ranging from 300,000 hectares (25%) per year. From these facts, Greenpeace, the international environmental organization recorded that the loss of Papua’s forest in the period of 2000-2009 ranged from 8.19 million hectares or on average 910,000 hectares of forest lost each year. Even some environmental NGOs like Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) estimate, the average of deforestation in Papua reaches one million hectares annually.

Some major causes of deforestation in Papua (Indonesia) consist of forest conversion by illegal logging and oil palm plantations, forest burning, mining, construction of roads and new settlements. Illegal logging and expansion of large-scale oil palm plantations are two main factors that caused the largest deforestation in Papua.

Illegal logging cases are generally done by licensed timber companies, but are cutting forests outside of their concession area. Large-scale palm oil plantations so far have been proven to bring environmental problems and disasters to the local community from the social aspect. In two regions in Indonesia such as Sumatra and Kalimantan, the presence of large scale oil palm plantations has impacted the destruction of thousands of hectares of primary forest.

As a result, local people as landowners who had been able to live peacefully only by depending on forest products, changed their lifestyles due to being low-wage palm oil planters. Local people are also uprooted from the cultural roots associated with the existence of the forest as a provider of life. In general, deforestation in Papua gives negative impacts towards the function of the forest as climate regulator, CO2 and oxygen producer and forest is no longer a life support provider.

Therefore, to reduce deforestation in Papua (Indonesia), there are some important things that can be done. First, the Indonesian government needs to change its political economy policy to provide the preservation and protection of forest. Second, the government need to apply development policies oriented to sustainable development that does not destroy the forest.

Third, supervision and law enforcement against any perpetrator of environmental crime and destruction of forests. Fourth, the government need to empower the local communities (indigenous people), who live around the forest to engage in surveillance efforts, conservation and sustainable use of forests.

Fifth, the government must commit to implementing policies related to the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) mechanism in order to reduce carbon emissions by providing compensation to the parties (including local communities) in the prevention of deforestation and forest degradation. Sixth, replanting (reforestation) and rehabilitation of degraded forest with native plants that are beneficial to the local communities.

Advocacy efforts and the joint campaign of saving Papua’s forests have been ongoing since 2006. This campaign was formulated into a major theme: “Save the Forest and Papuan” or in bahasa (Indonesia language) “Selamatkan Hutan dan Manusia Papua.” The reason is that Papua’s forests and its indigenous people are so intertwined that the rescue effort is a heavy task and must be taken seriously.

Given the increasingly deteriorating condition of forests, it is necessary to engage customary institutions as active government partners in the preparation, establishment, socialization and implementation of forest management governance. Law implementation and strict sanction is required to stop illegal logging perpetrators.

In conclusion, Papua’s vast tropical forest riches are a God’s gift worthy of being grateful as well as protected. Do not let this valuable gift be a curse in the future. By saving the forests of Papua, it means saving the natural wealth of humans and the invaluable Papuan culture. We have to do something to save the people and the forest of Papua for the better future. Save the forest, save the future !

*) Julian Howay is a freelance journalist and environmental activist.

Environment

Government to solve environmental crimes and human rights violations

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Jayapura, Jubi – Environmental activists and NGOs such as Yayasan Pusaka, SOS Tanah Papua, KPKC GKI Tanah Papua and PAHAM urged the central government to immediately solving the human rights violations and environmental crimes occurred in Papua.

This call is related to the 75th World Human Rights Day on 10 December 2018 that concern over violations and crimes against humanity and the environment.

A human right defender Yohanis Mambrasar said he received a report said that many civilians in Nduga Regency forced to take refuge and leave their villages. There is no guarantee of security and food for them.

“They are worried and suppressed by the security forces that involved in the evacuation of shooting victims. We also heard that a church activist was shot and died in Nduga,” said Mambrasar.

Meanwhile, the Rev Matheus Adadikam, the Director of ELSHAM (Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy) Papua, in a press release to Jubi said President Joko Widodo had given less priority to human rights enforcement in Indonesia, particularly in Papua, even though he promised to solve a number of past human right violations in Papua including the incidents in Abepura, Wamena and Wasior.

The development pattern and security approach in handling many problems in Papua considered ineffective, because people have traumatized since 1 May 1969. Therefore, the government and politic elites must be wise in responding the shooting incident in Nduga Regency. People had traumatised by Mampenduma Military Operation of 1986.

“We asked the Military and Police to prioritise professionalism and uphold the applied laws and human values according to the UN Human Rights Convention.

We also asked the armed group to be fully responsible for this incident. Do not involve the civilians because it would take more casualties.

 

Environmental crimes

Pressure on the environment as a source of life for indigenous Papuans also occurs in several regions through land clearing and deforestation for plantation, mining and logging activities on a large scale which involving the capital owners, transnational companies and state officials.

“Our sacred and sago forests in Muting and Bupul, Merauke Regency, have been evicted and demolished by those private companies without consultation and agreement. They did it quickly and gave improper compensation for the lands and our loss,” said Bonefacius Basikbasik Kamijae, the Chief of Kamijae clan.

Both central and regional governments have ignored and failed to protect the rights of the community started from the issuing of business permit and license for land and forest use. Furthermore, the government also considered for not being consistent regarding policy and regulation on the protection of forests and peatlands.

Aish Rumbekwan from WALHI Papua described that land conversion and large-scale deforestation from oil palm plantations, commercial plantations, mining and logging activities have triggered the climate change and raised the greenhouse emissions.

Therefore, the government should take immediate actions to reduce the earth temperature to below 1.5 degrees to ensure the safety of the people and their living space.

“We asked both regional and central governments to immediately implement a program to evaluate, review and revoke the business permits of forests and lands use that violate and contradict the regulations and customary laws,” said Rumbekwan.

Maratha Resolution

Environmental organisations in Papua have just completed their meeting in the Forum of Policy Dialogue and the Conference of Papua Customary Community held on 7 – 8 December in Susteran Maranatha, Jayapura City.

The meeting has set a resolution to address human rights violations and environmental crimes in Papua.

The resolution urged the government to thoroughly solving the human rights violations and humanitarian issues in Papua through a transparent legal process and provide justice to the victims and their families.

The government must take immediate action to restore and rehabilitate the rights of victims and their families.

The government must immediately recognize, protect and respect the existence of indigenous Papuans and the rights of indigenous people, the right towards lands and forests, the right of freedom of expression, the right of customary institution and the right of freedom of organisation, the right of development, the rights of customary laws and customary court.

The recognition, respect and protection of rights are effective methods to prevent human rights violations, environmental crimes and deforestation.

Meanwhile, Franky Samperante from Yayasan Papua said that the rights of indigenous Papuans to determine the development and take a decision on the land use by the outsiders have included in the Papuan Autonomy Law and derivative regulations.

However, the government has not fully acknowledged, protect and respect it.  “The government takes the interest of capital owners on behalf of the economic development as a priority. It also failed to monitor and conduct law enforcement towards the company who violate and commit environmental crimes and commit violence against the community,” said Samperante. (*)

Reporter: David Sobolim

Editor: Pipit Maizier

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The story of those whose forest got robbed

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Jayapura, Jubi– Addressing the commemoration of the World Human Rights day, Walhi (the Indonesian Forum for Environment) Papua, Yayasan Pusaka, SOS Tanah Papua, KPCK GKI Tanah Papua, LBH Papua and PAHAM invited a number of victims from several regencies in Papua Province whose lands exploited by logging, palm oil and mining companies to share their stories. 

Linus Omba from Boven Digoel Regency told how Korindo Group Company came to meet a person, then cut down the trees and took it away from this region.

“Our custom taught us to deliberate before taking a consensus for the public interest, but PT. Korindo Group only met one person and paid the tenure right concession to take woods from our forest,” Omba said on Monday (10/12/2018) in Jayapura.

Meanwhile, Bonefius Basik-basik, the chief of Basik-basik and Kamijari clans, added that the palm oil and logging companies have operated in this region from 2012 to 2018. He and his community have applied for payment for communal land ownership since 2017, but there’s no answer from those companies until now.

People then prohibited those companies to take the cutting woods and let those woods got rotten in the forest. “Finally, PT. ACP and PT. APF paid the community for Christmas preparation,” said Basik-basik.

However, according to him, due to logging and land clearing for new plantation area, it has an impact on the local community. Water that used to be used directly for drinking water currently polluted with the company waste.

Meanwhile, an activist from Timika Adolfina Kuum explained how the life of Kamoro and Amungme tribes have changed due to the presence of PT. Freeport Indonesia. The environmental damage caused by PT. Freeport still has an impact on the local people.

In the meantime, Aish Rumbekwan from Walhi Papua added that the private companies in that region didn’t give protection to indigenous people. The state seems not to protect to its citizens.

“And the expansion of Papua forest on a large scale has provided huge profits of state’s revenues, but this country has not provided welfare for the community,” he said. (*)

Reporter: David Sobolim

Editor: Pipit Maizier

 

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Agus Mahuze: I wrote ‘SOS Our Earth’ using wood charcoal

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Merauke, Jubi – Agustinus Mahuze, Marind native who is a member of the Election Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu) of Merauke Regency, had become public attention when the Indonesian President Jojo Widodo arrived in Merauke on Friday, 16 November 2018.

Mahuze who is also known as an environmentalist raised a paper with SoS Our Earth written on it when the president and his contingents passed the junction Lepro heading to Sota sub-district.

“I have planned it since President Jokowi visited Merauke for a couple of times but never done. So this is the first time that I can complete my plan. Moreover, it coincides with the president’s itinerary to attend the APEC Summit in Papua New Guinea,” he said on Monday (11/19/2018).

Furthermore, Mahuze explained that he wrote the phrase using wood charcoal, not marker or ballpoint because he did it spontaneously. According to him, the phrase ‘SOS our Earth’ has no other meaning but to save the earth and human soul.

“What I expressed in the writing does not only in the context of Merauke but the worldwide. So when the APEC Summit takes place, it should be a boost for the world leaders,” he said.

“I also hope that President Jokowi can read it and raise this global issues related to drought and forest fires that often occurred,” he said.

The point is, he continued, the message that I want to express is about the climate change. It’s only about the environment and has no connection with the political issue.

He also mentioned that it has no connection to his position as a member of the Election Supervisory Agency of Merauke Regency. “I brought the writing paper from home and stopped at the junction Lepro. When the presidential convoy passed, I immediately took it from my pocket and lifted it. People can see it, and the convoy ran slowly. But I don’t know whether the president read it or not,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Election Supervisory Agency of Merauke Agency Oktavina Amtop said the agency had heard the news that Agustinus Mahuze held a poster.

“Before becoming a member of the Election Supervisory Agency, he was an activist and environmentalist. Then what he’s done does not reflect him as a member of the Election Supervisory Agency, “said Amtop. (*)

 

Reporter: Ans K

Editor: Pipit Maizier

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