Indonesian Court Rules That Sacred Forests Belong To Tribes

Indigenous Land Rights Save Forests

In 1999 a new law was brought into effect in Indonesia which saw vast swathes of forest taken into state ownership. That law was overruled yesterday by the Constitutional Court and following its judicial review, the land ownership was ordered to be returned to local indigenous people. The move will have major impacts for development in some areas of Indonesia where state ownership of forests is no longer valid.

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The review examined the Act on Forestry. The Judicial Review was initiated in March last year by the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN). The ruling made by the court declared that Customary Forest is not State Forest and that Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago will get back their rights over their customary forests seized by the State through UUK.

“AMAN submitted the judicial review in March 2012 and its series of sessions ended in June. Good things come to those who wait. About 40 millions Indigenous Peoples now are rightful over our customary forests because the State has become unable to expel us out of our customary forests that have become our source of livelihood from generation to generation,” said Secretary-General of AMAN Abdon Nababan.

AMAN went to court over the implementation of the Act which saw inhabitants of customary forests that overlapped with State forests only being given weak rights and access. AMAN perceives that the UUK was deliberately legalized to take over customary forests and give them to capital owners through various license schemes.

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The decision will impact on the ability of license holders to exploit customary forests as the state will no longer have rights over the forests. The area of land that now needs to be transferred back to the people could be substantial.  The Government’s own statistics revealed last year that there are some 32,000 villages whose lands overlap areas classed as ‘State Forest Areas.’

Peoples now are rightful over our customary forests because the State has become unable to expel us out of our customary forests that have become our source of livelihood from generation to generation

Environmental Investigation Agency forests campaigner Mardi Minangsari welcomed the decision by the Constitutional Court.

palm oil plantation deforestation

“Although the National Constitution fully recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples, the laws issued later do not reflect that. The 1960 Law on Basic Agrarian regulation gave conditional recognition to indigenous peoples and, during the New Order era, millions of hectares of customary lands have been given to large companies for logging, plantations, mining operations and many Government development projects.

“The issuance of the Forestry Law in 1999 that stipulates that customary forest is State Forest has further taken away the rights of indigenous peoples over their land and forest resources.”

For more information about forest conservation and indigenous solutions to climate change, please visit 

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Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support.

About Gary Chandler

Gary Chandler is the founder and Executive Director of Sacred Seedlings, a division of Earth Tones, Inc.
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