Indonesian court rejects bid to save Aceh forest

In a blow to rainforest conservation in Sumatra, an Indonesian court on Nov. 29 dismissed a class-action lawsuit seeking to force the Aceh provincial government to protect the threatened Leuser Ecosystem in its land-use plan. The Central Jakarta District Court found that the provincial bylaw permitting mining within the Ecosystem caused no material losses to the plaintiffs—despite the fact that the Ecosystem is protected under national law as a "national strategic area." Five million people rely for clean water on Leuser’s forests, which also protect against natural disasters. Deforestation in Aceh's Tamiang district, for example, caused flash floods that displaced tens of thousands of people in 2006. 

International notoriety around the plan to undermine Leuser's protected status increased earlier this year when actor Leonardo DiCaprio visited the area and was threatened with deportation after calling for its conservation on social media. The rainforest was featured in DiCaprio's recent documentary about climate change, Before the Flood.

Aceh governor Zaini Abdullah's administration has characterized the protected status as an imposition from Jakarta that undermines the province's right to develop. The plaintiffs argued that the Aceh government had broken the law by failing both to obtain Jakarta's approval for the plan and to legitimately consult with the public before pushing it through. Conservation groups such as the Nature and Environment of Aceh (HAkA) say the forest is home two four endangered species of orangutans, rhinos, elephants and tigers. The group pledged to appeal the decision. (Jurist, Nov. 30; Mongabay, Nov. 29)