Indonesian Government Appeals Rejection of Biggest Haze Crisis Lawsuit
Jan 04, 2016 12:09 PM EST
The Indonesian government is determined to appeal the court's decision to reject a US$565 million lawsuit against pulp plantation company Bumi Mekar Hijau for failing to prevent plantation fires and contributing to Southeast Asia's haze crisis.
Indonesian authorities filed a civil lawsuit against Bumi Mekar Hijau, a supplier to global company Asia Pulp and Paper, which required the former to pay up to 7.8 trillion rupiah or US$565 million for failing to prevent fires on plantation land in 2014. The wildfires inevitably contributed to the toxic haze that blanketed parts of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. According to Asia One, Mr Pharlis Nababa, chair of the district court in Sumatra province, cited insufficient evidence as the reason for rejecting the lawsuit. The court ruled on December 30. Payment for damages would have been the biggest ever levied against a private company over plantation fires in Indonesia.
Environmentalists are disappointed, and believe this rejection is a major setback against ongoing efforts to bring perpetrators behind the yearly haze outbreaks to justice. According to Chanel News Asia, Riko Kurniawan, one of the activists representing The Indonesian Forum for the Environment, thinks the lawsuit rejection set a "bad precedent", citing it as "another failed attempt to seek justice for victims of the haze". Environment Ministry spokesperson Eka Widodo Sugiri assures the public that the government will file an appeal to the court's decision within two weeks. Sugiri tells the foreign press that the "nation's dignity was disturbed" because Indonesia received several complaints from neighbouring Southeast Asian countries.
Haze caused by wildfires occur every year in Indonesia, as a result of the slash-and-burn method workers use to make way for palm oil and paper plantations in Sumatra and the Indonesian side of Borneo Island. The thick blanket of haze stretches from Indonesia and reaches parts of Malaysia and Singapore.
To prevent this from happening, plantation companies are responsible for making sure fires do not break out within their territory, but this has not stopped fires from occurring. Most big companies have "zero-burn" policies in place, but typically insist that the fires started outside their land, and by people who are not their employees. According to CNN, the haze caused by the raging fires in September and October last year are the worst to occur in years. It resulted in the closing of schools, disruption of businesses, flight cancellations, and half a million cases of acute respiratory infection.
The Indonesian Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has dubbed the recent crisis as a "crime against humanity".