The Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago (AMAN) filed a petition for constitutional review back in March asking the Mahkamah Konstitusi to remove state ownership from customary forests. According to Art. 1f of the 1999 Law on Forestry, “customary forests are state forests located in the areas of custom-based communities” (emphasis added). The justices agreed with AMAN. According to Justice Alim, “Members of customary societies have the right to clear forests belonging to them and use the land to fulfill their personal and family needs. The rights of indigenous communities will not be eradicated, as long as they’re protected under Article 18b of the Constitution.”
What’s perhaps more surprising is that the government seems fine with having lost the case. According to The Jakarta Globe, Ministry of Forestry spokesperson Sumarto claimed, “The Ministry of Forestry considers indigenous peoples living in a certain area as being part of the forest itself. They cannot be separated.” Of course, this could just be PR spin. After all, why would the central government want to cede control over forest resources? However, there also seems to be an implicit subtext in his comments, namely that the government might be glad to be rid of some of the burden in managing the forests.