In an important statement to an international meeting of some of the world's largest buyers of Indonesia's palm oil and paper-pulp, Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, announced new steps to curb deforestation. Accepting responsibility for the worse than usual annual 'haze' from forest burning in plantations in Sumatra which has blighted the lives of residents of Singapore and South Malaysia (as well as Sumatra itself), the President linked the need for strengthened control of forests to the need to secure the rights of forest dependent communities and indigenous peoples.
The speech follows a historic decision by the country's Constitutional Court, which had ruled last month that indigenous peoples' 'customary forests' are not 'State forest areas'. In a marked departure from the usual language of Indonesia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the President, speaking in English, referred explicitly to the country's 'Indigenous Peoples' - a term that the Government of Indonesia has usually avoided equating with the Indonesian term 'masyarakat adat' (communities governed by custom).
In a following speech at this high level meeting, Abdon Nababan, the Secretary General of the national indigenous peoples' organisation (AMAN), welcomed the President's statement and called for an immediate Presidential Instruction to require the passage of laws protecting indigenous peoples' rights currently being considered by the legislature. AMAN argues that at least 40 million ha of Indonesia's forests are best protected by protecting indigenous peoples' rights. While welcoming these high level policy changes, he noted the urgency of making this changed approach effective as 'business as usual is tearing apart our forests, stealing indigenous lands, encroaching on indigenous peoples' territories and destroying our ways of life'.