Strengthening environmental justice

Environmental law enforcement must be one of the highest priorities of government.
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$1.2 billion: the fine imposed on one private corporation that committed environmental crimes.

Being rich in natural resources is a tremendous blessing for Indonesia that brings prosperity and hope to the people. In addition to being the world's largest archipelagic country, Indonesia hosts a tropical forest area of more than 120 million hectares, the most extensive in Asia and the world's third largest. Indonesia is also abundantly rich in maritime resources potential: ocean comprises no less than two-thirds of the country’s territory. Together, these ecosystems comprise immense mega biodiversity across the country’s extensive rain forests and rich coastal and marine areas.

To paraphrase a popular saying, with abundant natural resources comes great responsibility. It is indeed a great responsibility for Indonesia to ensure that they will continue to provide sources of living for future generations. Learning from unfortunate experiences, both current and past, Indonesia is well aware of how richness in terms of natural resources can quickly evolve into a sinister curse for a country, if they are managed unsustainably. The key to success is the application of sound management that ensures benefits for people as well as environmental protection, as stipulated in Indonesia’s 1945 Constitution Article 28 H (1) and 33 (4), which state that having a good environment is a human right.

For Indonesia, environmental protection is a matter of national survival, since our environment constitutes the primary source of living for our people. Unfortunately, environment-related criminal activities threaten our natural resources and the foundation of our development, posing a menacing threat not only to Indonesia’s biosphere, but also to state finances, as it undermines state revenues derived from legitimate natural resource use. In short, environmental crimes pose a real threat to our national security, and to our sustainable development.

The threats are staggeringly varied, ranging from illegal logging, forest encroachment, and clearing land with fire, to illegal fishing, poaching and wildlife trafficking. Those are regarded as extraordinary crimes that will eventually need to be countered through extraordinary efforts by law enforcement agencies. The “business-as-usual” approach is no longer acceptable if we are to successfully tackle these problems.

Effective law enforcement is one of the the most significant requirements for preventing environmental damage caused by illegal activities. The Indonesian government realizes that even the best environmental regulations are ineffective without it, and it needs to be strengthened.

Environmental protection and environmental law enforcement have therefore become one of the highest priorities of the Indonesian government, in its attempts to ensure the sustainability of our environment and to provide life-support for the people. Effective environmental regulation is a key component of the government’s platform in moving toward inclusive and sustainable economic development aimed at providing food security, energy security, infrastructure development, and sound maritime sector development.

Among other measures, the government has identified and is prioritizing three strategic measures corresponding to our needs, namely: good governance, affirmative actions, and political leadership.

Good governance. Governance has a strong impact on environmental management and protection. The rule of law, citizen’s rights of access to information, public participation and equitable access to justice are as important as specific environmental policies or projects in improving environmental outcomes.
The government has taken bold measures to improve environmental management by establishing a new Ministry of Environment and Forestry – merging the previously separated ministries of environment and forestry – with the goal of integrating and consolidating management. It is envisaged that, through this fusion, a unified single ministry may take more decisive actions with real impacts and effects.

Unifying the two ministries is also important in consolidating all available resources, especially financial and human ones. This may also bolster its authority, encourage the involvement of all stakeholders and fill in any gaps in the expertise or resources needed to meet the new and common goals.

A special unit at a directorate general level was also created within the new ministry specifically to deal with law enforcement implementation. The new special branch – entitled the Directorate General of Law Enforcement for Environment and Forestry – functions as the main institution responsible for addressing disturbances and threats to environment and forests.

Affirmative Action. Public trust in environmental law enforcement will strongly be cemented only if environmental justice is thoroughly upheld, and is capable of generating long-awaited credible deterrent effects. The government has been undertaking measures to realize just law enforcement through, among other things, intensified supervision and monitoring, application of a ‘multi-door’ approach, as well as certifying environmental judges.
Intensified supervision and monitoring is particularly necessary to improve management and bolster the prevention of violations by both individuals and corporations. In order to create strong deterrent effects, multiple legal instruments have been applied that include administrative and criminal sanctions. In practice, administrative sanctions have always been applied to violators before criminal ones.
Applying a hybrid or ‘multi-door’ approach in criminal law enforcement has also been continuously developed so as to create a strong deterrent effect on perpetrators. This approach enables the application of other related laws, such as anti-corruption and anti-money-laundering laws, together with environmental laws and regulations in prosecuting illegal actions against the environment and forests. Indeed, this approach will require close coordination and collaboration among law enforcement institutions and agencies.

Among other law enforcement work during 2015-2016 were the confiscation of 6,180 m3 of timber, 23,907 logs, and 176 pieces of wood products. Twenty-four cases have been prosecuted at different stages, including six which ended in verdicts. Over 2,250 specimens of wildlife and their products have also been confiscated from 33 legal cases, of which 13 received verdicts.

Forest and land fires have been subjected to extensive affirmative actions. As a result, supported by favourable weather, the extent of fires dropped by 83 per cent in 2016, compared to the previous year. Efforts include: training 5,288 forest fire brigades, plus 150 in Forest Management Units; developing communities against fire involving nearly 10,000 people in over 650 groups; and training nearly 5,000 private company staff and nearly 1,000 military and police officers. Coordination has also been intensified with the military, police, the Ministry of Manpower, and the Ministry of Information (e.g. on the use of cellphones for fire alerts). Joint fire fighting involves the military, police, local governments, the private sector, and communities, together with a fire monitoring system and fire patrols. Fire fighting is carried out on the ground and by planes that can pour 1 million litres of water and 128 tons of salt onto the flames. Over 15,000 canal blocks, over 25,000 ponds, and nearly 1,000 wells have been constructed.

Equipment procured includes vehicles, pumps, GPS, and fire brigade attire. The budget was around 150 billion rupiah in 2015, 250 billion rupiah in 2016, and 170 billion rupiah ($12.8 million) in 2017. During 2015-2016, 12 forest fire cases were brought to court incurring penalties of up to $1.2 billion. Also three concessions were revoked; 16 were suspended; 17 were forced to rectify their conduct; and 115 were given written warnings. Rewards have been given as well as punishments, including certificates of recognition. Another scheme for preventing illegal logging is the timber legality assurance system, known as SVLK, which is compulsory for all exported wood products. SVLK certification is credible – being the only one so far recognized by the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade plan – especially for its transparency in involving the public in the process.

Professional certification for environmental judges constitutes another important measure undertaken by the government to uphold environmental justice by creating professional judges fully committed to, and capable of, ruling on environmental laws with the application of the “in dubio pro natura” principle. So far, 577 Indonesian judges have been environmentally certified and the number is increasing.

Political Leadership. Political commitment, from the top, is highly important in creating a positive attitude and emphasis, and in consolidating all necessary resources to create an effective law enforcement system. An environmentally oriented political commitment is crucial for orchestrating coherent policies and approaches in various law enforcement agencies as well as in all levels of government administrations.

The current government has been giving examples of a strong political commitment in environmental law enforcement. The presidential office is directly taking a lead on field visits and giving instructions to the ministers, governors and officials involved in them, and in such policy directives as a moratorium of new concessions on peatlands and the Ministry of Environment and Forestry revoking existing concessions’ on burned peatlands so that they can be restored by the newly established Peatland Restoration Agency. Another bold policy is to give more rights and access for communities, for example through recognising nine “adat” (customary) forests just a couple of months ago, and through allocating 12.7 million hectares for community forestry.

Strong support has also been given to officials to enable them consistently to do their work in enforcing environmental law in the field, by visiting and giving them direct political support, or “blusukan”. A mechanism of reward and punishment is applied. For example, chief military officers are granted promotion when they have achieved a minimum rate of forest and land fires, and are transfered to less favourable posts when they have not.

Learning from severe forest fires in 2015, the government has undertaken firm action by bringing responsible individuals and corporations before the law for both administrative and criminal sanctions. About 500 cases have already been brought to justice and some of them have received their sanctions, including a historic $1.2 billion fine to a private corporation proven to have committed crimes against the environment. Anticipatory measures and an early warning system have also been in place enabling the government to prevent the reccurence of similar disasters in 2016, and hopefully in the years to come.

After two years, the government’s hard work in strengthening environmental law enforcement and in realizing better environmental management has started to gain good results. Generally, public trust in environmental law enforcement in Indonesia has so far improved as the government’s work has started to show outcomes and positive impacts towards sound environmental management. Nevertheless, challenges remain. There is no room for complacency. Environmental law reforms and maintaining legal certainty in law enforcement will remain the government’s priorities.

Environmental law enforcement has never been an issue of win or lose. It is part of the government’s vital role in building responsible attitudes among all individuals and entities nationwide, and in creating environmental justice for all, for the benefit of current, and future generations.