Timber Boss Evades Jail, Court Fiasco Illustrates Urgent Need for Reform in Indonesian
The controversial acquittal of fugitive timber boss Adelin Lis is symptomatic of corruption in the criminal justice system and serious flaws in Indonesia's forest laws, bringing into question the government's approach to tackling illegal logging, environmental groups warned today.
In light of the judges' verdict in Medan, North Sumatra, on 5th November, Telapak and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) are urging the Indonesian government to immediately enact a recently agreed standard for verifying the legality of timber and to conduct a high-level review of the Presidential Instruction issued in April 2005 to combat illegal logging.
Lis in one of the most high profile illegal logging suspects to be brought before the courts, and faced charges carrying a jail sentence of up to ten years.
His acquittal marks a serious setback in Indonesia's efforts to tackle illegal logging, and revealed utter confusion between key ministries as to whether the offence was criminal or administrative.
The current legal framework governing forestry in Indonesia is riddled with over-lapping rules, contrary regulations and grey areas.
This legal confusion, coupled with rampant corruption, has played a significant role in ensuring that Indonesia, despite reams of forestry rules, has one of the world's worst rates of deforestation and a massive illegal logging problem.
Efforts have been made to fix the problem through the drafting of a new Timber Legality Assurance System (TLAS), which would bring much needed clarity to the forestry sector.
Despite four years of work drawing up the standard and broad agreement on the substance, it has languished in the Ministry of Forestry since January awaiting final approval.
Mardi Minangsari, Senior Forest Campaigner at Telapak, said: "The current way of managing forestry in Indonesia is clearly not fit for purpose. Criminals profit from legal uncertainty and grey areas, while deforestation continues. We urge the government to adopt the new legality standard as a matter of urgency to sort out the confusion."
The acquittal of Lis is the latest in a long line of questionable verdicts in major illegal logging trials. Despite Indonesia's much-vaunted clampdown on illegal logging, virtually no significant timber criminals have been found guilty by the courts. In March EIA/Telapak released a report entitled "The Thousand Headed Snake", revealing the utter failure of the Indonesian authorities to bring the main timber barons to justice. For instance, none of the ringleaders among 173 suspects identified during an unprecedented crackdown in Papua in 2005 have been successfully prosecuted.
In 2005 President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono issued an instruction compelling 18 government agencies to work together to tackle illegal logging. Yet recent disagreements between the police and the Ministry of Forestry, and the failure of the Attorney General's Office to successfully prosecute illegal logging cases show that the effectiveness of the "inpres" needs to be urgently reviewed, with EIA/Telapak advocating the setting up of a strike force to handle high profile cases.
Julian Newman, Head of EIA's Forest Campaign, said: "The Lis case shows it is business as usual in Indonesia's courts. The evidence of illegal logging is clear to see across Indonesia - decimated forests and impoverished communities - yet the influential timber criminals who have robbed Indonesia of billions of dollars of timber always escape justice."
As the pivotal Bali talks on climate change approach, Indonesia's woeful record of forest mismanagement will be under the spotlight.
The country is also in the midst of important timber trade negotiations with the European Union to curb wood smuggling. Approving the new legality standard and establishing a powerful strike force to tackle illegal logging would go some way to show the international community that Indonesia is serious about protecting its remaining forests.
For more information, contact EIA at +44 (0)20 7354 7960 (UK) or +1 202 483 6621 (U.S.).