Friday, 19 June 2009

Judges trained in environmental law cases

Adianto P. Simamora , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Fri, 06/19/2009

In response to the rising number of cases related to environmental violations, the Supreme Court is set to offer specialized training for judges.

The State Minister for the Environment Rachmat Witoelar and the chief justice, Harifin A. Tumpa, signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the law enforcement of environmental-related cases Thursday.

As part of the MoU, Rachmat's office will brief judges regularly to upgrade their understanding and knowledge of recent environmental cases.

"We will train about 100 judges who specialize in environmental law to handle all environmental cases in the country.

"They will also work from region to region," Harifin told a press conference in Jakarta on Thursday.

"The training is important because judges are responsible for upholding environmental law."

There are currently about 6,000 judges in the country, but only 10 judges have "sufficient knowledge" of environmental law.

"The judges must be able to *push' people to uphold environmental law," Harifin said.

Harifin also expressed concern over the worsening condition of Indonesia's natural environment, which is increasing global warming and causing climate change.

"It is inevitable that the level of pollution will increase in the country. Industries dump their waste anywhere they like and this compromises the supply of clean water," he said.

"Big plantations have also caused the clearing of huge forest areas, and problems with forest concession holders *HPH* and illegal logging has contributed to environmental degradation."

Under the 1997 environmental law, company executives can face a maximum 10-year prison sentence and fines of up to Rp 500 million for deliberately damaging the environment.

The environment ministry, however, has long complained about the poor enforcement of environmental law, even though they have reported many cases of abuse to the police.

Currently, the ministry applies an "umbrella enforcement system" bringing together officials from the National Police, the Attorney General's Office and civil servant investigators (PPNS), to enforce the law.

The reason for poor law enforcement, the ministry says, is because it is enforced by regional administrations.

State minister Rachmat said that such cooperation was ineffective as only 19 cases out of 33 reported cases had ended up in court over the last five years.

"To make matters worse, many of those detained for environmental violations are low-ranking staff members that work in the fields," he said.

"There needs to be crucial actions taken to further enforce the law in environmental cases; otherwise there will be no deterrent for people to stop polluting the environment."

The effect of poor law enforcement was evident in findings from the 2008 State of the Environment Report, which said the quality of air, water, rivers and waste management across Indonesia had continued to decline.

Rachmat said that more and more of the country's river water was contaminated, mainly by household and industrial waste.