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31 May 2024

Human Rights Watch

NGOs urge EU to include civil society groups in talks with Malaysia & Indonesia over deforestation regulation

"EU: Include Civil Society in Anti-Deforestation Task Force"

Environmental Groups, Indigenous Communities Should be at Malaysia, Indonesia Meetings

The European Commission should include independent civil society groups in ongoing key talks with Malaysia and Indonesia over its anti-deforestation rules, a delegation of Indigenous, human rights, and environmental organizations said today.

In June 2023, the two Southeast Asian countries formed a task force with the European Commission to resolve tensions over the implementation of a vital new European Union law to tackle global deforestation. But frontline organizations representing the rights of communities affected by deforestation have largely been left out of the task force meetings.

“We are hopeful that the EU deforestation law will support us to advance human and environmental rights locally, especially as policies to safeguard these rights are still lacking for us,” said Celine Lim, managing director of SAVE Rivers, an Indigenous organization from Sarawak, Malaysia.

The delegation, which is meeting with EU officials in Brussels through May 31, 2024, consists of members from SAVE Rivers, RimbaWatch, Bruno Manser Fonds, KERUAN, and Human Rights Watch.

The European Union Deforestation-free Products Regulation (EUDR), adopted in May 2023, restricts the sale of certain products on the EU market if they are linked to deforestation or violations of land rights or human rights. Malaysia and Indonesia are the world’s biggest producers of palm oil and significant exporters of timber to the EU. The regulation covers both commodities.

The joint task force convened in Jakarta in August 2023 and again in Brussels in February 2024, with another meeting set for Brussels in September. The task force needs to hear from frontline communities most affected by deforestation and environmental organizations in their countries to genuinely understand the impact of the palm oil and timber industries, the delegation said. [...]

Local groups in Indonesia and Malaysia have done important work on issues related to the EU Deforestation-free Products Regulation, such as monitoring areas at risk of deforestation, investigating flaws in palm oil and timber certification schemes, and assisting communities with the mapping of ancestral land. Their research consistently shows that poor regulation and oversight of the timber and palm oil industries has enabled companies to routinely encroach on Indigenous territories and violate rights. [...]