In a historic ruling, Indonesia's Constitutional Court has invalidated the 1999 forestry law and potentially recognizing the indigenous rights to the traditional lands. The Indonesian government has control over the country's vast forest estate, and for years it refuse to recognize indigenous rights. For years traditional forests were stolen to the local communities to be given to private companies for logging or conversion into plantations. Community forests, small scale plantations and gardens were bulldozed to create palm oil or pulp plantations,the reaction of local pople was often cracked down by by the police, creating a long wave of land tenure conflicts. According to the National Forestry Council, conflicts over forest management currently involve nearly 20,000 villages in 33 provinces throughout Indonesia. The rights to more than 1.2 million hectares is in dispute.
In a review of Act No. 41/1999 on Forestry (Undang-Undang Kehutanan or UUK), Indonesia's Constitutional Court ruled that customary forests should not be classified as "State Forest Areas". The case was prompted by a request for review by National People's Indigenous Organization (AMAN), which represents indigenous people across the sprawling archipelago. AMAN estimates that the ruling affects 30 percent of Indonesia's forest estate or 40 million hectares (154,000 square miles). According to AMAN, the 1999 law was deliberately aimed to take over customary forests and give them to capital owners through various license schemes. These so-called legal seizures practically happen on all around Indonesia.
"The exploitation of customary forests has been proven threatening to the sustainability of Indigenous Peoples and damaging environment". said Abdon Nababanm, AMAN's Secretary-General "The court has found the forestry laws provisions unconstitutional, the state cannot expel us from our customary forests that have been our source of livelihoods for generations. About 40 million indigenous people are now the rightful owners of our customary forests".
The implementation of the ruling will be likely face the obstructionism by the Ministry of Forestry, which has used its massive land bank to accumulate revenue and political power. The Ministry announced that "customary forests" are much less than 40 million hectares and suggested that the implementation would take years. Also logging and plantation companies will likely refuse to give "their" concessions back to the local communities. But the Court decision could prevent the government to give new permissions in traditional forest areas without a Free, Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) process.