Indonesian coalition pushes for transparency over decision to drop forest fire cases


An alliance of Indonesian human rights NGOs is taking the provincial police in Riau, Sumatra, to the Central Information Commission over its refusal to disclose the legal basis for dropping cases against 15 plantation companies accused of starting illegal forest fires.

The companies had been identified by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry as potentially complicit in the fires that became a global crisis in 2015. The forest and peatland fires generated huge volumes of greenhouse gases and were estimated to have contributed to more than 100,000 premature deaths.

In July, however, the local police in Riau province issued SP3 notices, an official document announcing that a case is closed, for the 15 companies.

The Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence (Kontras) has argued that it is entitled to view the documents outlining the legal basis for the decision to terminate the cases, under Indonesia’s freedom of information law, the Public Information Disclosure Act (PIDA).

On Monday Kontras told media that two formal attempts to determine the reasoning behind the decision had been ignored by the Riau police. The formal process under the PIDA may force the police to release documents, but even if successful will be a lengthy process.

Luhut Pandjaitan, a retired general and senior member of the Indonesian cabinet, had been appointed by President Joko Widodo to coordinate a cross-ministerial response to the fires. After the SP3 notices were issued he expressed concern over the decision and said he would seek an explanation. The following day he was moved from his position in a cabinet reshuffle.

In September the National Police Chief, General Tito Karnavian, told the media that only the National Police had the right to issue SP3s to corporations (see video below), implying the decision was not taken at the provincial level. He attributed the decision to a lack of evidence, indications that the fires had started outside the companies’ concession boundaries and spread in, and that they had occurred in community lands.

Obtaining the SP3 would enable the NGOs to verify the evidence that forms the basis of this position.

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