Thu, 30 Aug 2001

Environmentalists laud verdict against Freeport

JAKARTA (JP): Environmentalists lauded on Wednesday a court ruling against the U.S.-based mining company PT Freeport Indonesia for environmental damage, saying that it is a good start for the environmental protection movement.

State Minister for the Environment Nabiel Makarim applauded the South Jakarta District Court's decision, which he said was the first time the legal institution had sided with the interests of the people.

"This is the first time a court has ruled in favor of the public after several lawsuits on environmental issues have been filed with the courts," he said on Wednesday after a meeting of ministers under the Coordinating Ministry of People's Welfare.

Presiding judge Rusman Dani Achmad said in their verdict on Tuesday that Freeport had spread misleading information about its environmental management activities that led to the collapse of its waste pile at Wanagon Lake near its copper and gold mine in Grasberg, Irian Jaya, in 2000, that allegedly claimed four lives. The court said the company had violated Law No. 23/1997 on environmental management.

The law requires every company to provide accurate and correct information about its environmental management activities.

Longgena Ginting, an executive of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), which filed the lawsuit against Freeport, said the court decision was only a "minor victory".

"But it does bring a positive political impact for the activists's advocacy for the protection of the environment from destruction caused by copper and gold mining activities and even for the broader issues," he said.

"This is the first time we have won a trial out of eight cases taken to court so far," he told The Jakarta Post.

Longgena, however, regretted the court's failure to see the necessity for further legal power to be given to the government to force the firm to review its Environmental Impact Assessment and working contracts.

"The court's decision is certainly an advancement, but there is still a long way to go," he added.

He said he was aware of the possible change of circumstances should the case be appealed to higher courts. A Freeport lawyer said that he would file an appeal.

Longgena revealed that in the near future Walhi would file at least two suits involving the pollution of rivers, which have been used for the dumping of industrial waste containing poisonous and hazardous chemical substances.

The South Jakarta District Court also ordered Freeport to follow the Environmental Management Impact Agency (Bapedal) guidelines so as to reduce the amount of waste at its operation sites and to maximize the function of its early warning system for floods at its operation in Irian Jaya.

Walhi's Jakarta office executive director Ahmad Safrudin said the NGO would submit three lawsuits to the East Jakarta District Court regarding a waste management company's dumping of toxic waste in Munjul village, Cipayung, East Jakarta which has polluted groundwater.

"The first two are class actions by residents against the government for their slow response to the water shortage in the area, and the waste management company which doesn't really have the systems or technology to handle its client industries' waste," he told the Post.

"The other lawsuit is the environmentalists' legal standing against the perpetrators of the environmental damage, including industries and the government," he added. (bby)