Strength in numbers at forest protection conference

Greenpeace Southeast Asia campaign director Shailendra Yashwant at the forest protection seminar in Jayapura © Greenpeace/Rante

With the pageantry of the welcoming ceremony out of the way and the ship firmly berthed in Jayapura (although it had to spend the night anchored offshore), today has had a more serious focus. Greenpeace campaigners in Papua collaborate with a number of groups and other organisations – including Forum Kerja Sama (or Foker), a coalition of organisations campaigning across a range of social issues – which are also working hard to protect the region’s forests, so the presence of the Esperanza is as good an excuse as any to bring everyone together to build support the eventual aim of zero deforestation in Indonesia.

Those attending represented a wide range of interests and concerns, but with a common link to protecting the forests and defending the rights of indigenous Papuans who live in them. Both of these issues are inextricably linked and it’s impossible to talk about one without discussing the other.

As organisers of the conference, Greenpeace had several people present (including me) including Shailendra Yashwant (campaign director for Southeast Asia), Lienche Maloali and Bustar Maitar (both forest campaigners), but mostly it was representatives from other organisations who took the floor.

Bustar sat on a panel with Gorgorilus Yaboisembut, head of indigenous people’s council Dewan Adat Tanah Papua discussing how sustainable forest management and the rights of forest communities are now being debated at a national and international level. Also speaking were Frans Wospakrik of Majelis Rakyat Papua talking about how the ecological and cultural significance of the forests can be recognised and preserved, while Edison Giay from Perkumpulam Terbatas Penkajian Pemberdayaan Masyarakat Adat explained how mapping the areas of traditional land use can be used when local people come into conflict with commercial and political interests.

Leonard Imbiri

Leonard Imbiri

Not being able to speak Bahasa, I wasn’t able to follow the discussions but even I could tell that some of the delegates spoke with great passion and, at times, great frustration. However, I was able to interview a few attendees including Leonard Imbiri of Dewan Adat Papua. He explained the problems with laws which divide the forests between the state and the local people. But this discriminates against indigenous Papuans who happen to live in state controlled areas by refusing to acknowledge their rights. Leonard also said that he thought working with Greenpeace provided extra energy and resources to Dewan Adat Papua’s campaign, but added a reminder that the rights of indigenous Papuans should not be overridden in efforts to save the forests.

Listen to what Leonard had to say:

Frans Wospakrik

Frans Wospakrik

I also spoke to Frans Wospakrik from Majelis Rakyat Papua. He also stressed the importance of human rights, adding that indigenous Papuans already have the knowledge and skills to preserve the forest – after all, they have been living there comfortably for tens of thousands of years. Involving and empowering them in the campaign, Frans said, is vital.

Listen to the interview with Frans

But the main thing I’ve got from today’s event was a renewed feeling of hope for the future. With so many people from different organisations dedicated to protecting Papua’s forests together in one room, it seems there’s no way that collectively they can fail.

posted by Jamie on board the Esperanza

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