Friday, 23 November 2007

Lawyers call for unity against illegal logging

Lawyers call for unity against illegal logging

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta: 23rd Nov. 2007

Bewildering Indonesian forestry regulations and chaotic inter-departmental coordination have contributed to the government's inability to handle illegal logging cases, experts say.

Lawyer Bambang Widjojanto said there were at least three core issues related to illegal logging; a lack of political will, unclear licensing procedures and insufficient control measures.

He said the government's political will was needed in order to harmonize the laws and coordinate the institutions related to forestry.

"The conflicting Indonesian laws on forestry should be resolved. Some of the laws on deforestation and illegal logging include the Forestry Law, the Conservation Law and the Corruption Law," Bambang said in a discussion Thursday on illegal logging cases in Indonesia.
The conflict among these laws has resulted in the controversy surrounding how a license to utilize forest areas should be issued, thus providing a loophole for illegal loggers.

"The main grounds for almost every court decision to release illegal logging suspects has been because the suspects already had licenses to manage particular forest areas, including taking timber from those areas. Or, they had already applied for licenses but had not received them," Bambang said.

He added, however, it was actually possible to indict license holders with the existing criminal laws.

"Even though they have licenses, they can still be charged under criminal laws, especially if they cause environmental damage."

Bambang said license violations were only seen as procedural or administrative breaches, not criminal acts, even though the violations caused negative impacts, such as triggering floods, landslides or other disasters.

Commenting on this issue, two other law experts -- Sulaiman Sembiring and Rudy Satrio -- agreed the inability of Indonesian law enforcers to effectively apply the law provided opportunities for illegal loggers in the country.

"No matter how many laws a country has, the conditions will never change if law enforcement is weak," said Sulaiman, an environmental law expert.

He said the factors that needed improvement included the quality of the state apparatus, the culture of society and law enforcement infrastructure.

Rudy said in this era of autonomy, it has become harder for the central government to control its apparatus in the regions, particularly those with forest-based economies.

"Thus, the Forestry Ministry needs to strengthen its local offices in the regions," said Rudy, a criminal law expert from the University of Indonesia.

Both experts agreed there was a need to categorize forestry crime as a transnational crime.
"Usually, the demand for timber comes from foreign buyers. Almost all illegal timber is sold outside of Indonesia," Bambang said.

"Still, in this case, we first need to resolve the conflicting regulations and strengthen our inter-departmental coordination. Only then will we be ready to bring this case to the international level." (uwi)