Justice Attacked Over Illegal Logging

JAKARTA ~ Indonesia’s weak and corrupt judicial system has severely undermined efforts to curb deforestation because timber smuggling masterminds go unpunished, activists said on Wednesday.

They issued a report alleging that corruption throughout the justice system “conspires to ensure the main culprits behind illegal logging in Indonesia remain at liberty.”

A television documentary accompanying the report contained interviews with traders in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and China about how Indonesian timber is smuggled.

The testimony revealed one technique was to doctor documents to show Malaysia as the origin of the timber. A police officer in Sumatra also confessed to illegal timber trading.

“What we are showing is only the tip of the iceberg,” said Yayat Afianto from Indonesian group Telapak, which issued the report along with the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

In 2005 President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono sent 1,500 security personnel to Papua province to clamp down on illegal logging.

Afianto said the government released a list of 186 wanted suspects soon after the operation.

But “the Ministry of Forestry complained recently that 26 suspects in major cases were released by the courts,” he said, adding only 13 small operators had been convicted and that none of the financiers had been reprimanded.

Campaigner Julian Newman from the EIA said many markets in Asia and the West were addicted to illegal timber.

Industry took “great steps to ensure it gets cheap, illegal timber from Indonesia and (is) often backed up by politicians,” he said.

Newman alleged that Singapore offered a “safe haven” for timber barons identified as major players in Sumatra and Borneo.

The government estimates illegal logging has cost the country around US$4 billion and some 2.8 million hectares of forest cover per year over the last decade.

Ten countries account for 80 percent of the world’s primary forests, of which Indonesia, Mexico, Papua New Guinea and Brazil saw the highest losses in the five years from 2000 to 2005, UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has said.

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