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Indonesian groups to sue Widodo over deadly flood

President, provincial governor 'should be held accountable for preventable disaster' that killed 24 in South Kalimantan

Indonesian groups to sue Widodo over deadly flood

Heavy rain caused the Barito River in South Kalimantan to overflow and flood many areas in the province on Jan. 12. Activists blame mining and palm oil companies for the disaster. (Photo courtesy of South Kalimantan regional government)

Civil society groups are to launch a class-action lawsuit against Indonesian President Joko Widodo and the South Kalimantan governor following recent floods that left 24 people dead and thousands homeless.  

The Clean Indonesia coalition, which includes the Young Lawyers Committee, Indonesian Mining Advocacy Network and Indonesian Forum for the Environment, say Widodo and Sahbirin Noor should be held accountable for the disaster.

According to South Kalimantan’s emergency coordination office, the floods hit 11 of 14 districts and cities in the province on Jan. 12 and impacted more than 700,000 people including 100,000 who fled their homes.

It also reported that 120,000 buildings were flooded including 1,385 schools. 

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment in South Kalimantan said about 50 percent of 3.7 million hectares of forests in the province had been exploited, with about 1.2 million hectares cut for mining and 620,000 hectares for palm oil plantations.

“Our goal [in suing the president and governor] is to make society understand that someone is responsible for this disaster and to provide compensation for victims,” Muhammad Pazri, chairman of the Young Lawyers Committee, said as he read out a joint statement on Jan. 26.

He said the government had failed to prevent a flood that had badly affected many people.

The lawyer said complaint centers were being set up in Banjarmasin city and across the province for victims to bring their grievances because they have the right to sue the government.

He said bringing a class-action suit is a constitutional right of the people.

Kisworo Dwi Cahyono, director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment in South Kalimantan, said much of the blame should be laid at the door of local authorities for giving permits to mining and plantation companies.    

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“The disaster could easily have been prevented through proper regulation and support for the environment,” he said.

He said more than 50,000 people had still to return to their homes, with many fearing fresh floods as it was still raining in the region.  

Frans Sani Lake, director of the church-run Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation group in Kalimantan, welcomed the lawsuit.

“It’s a warning to the president and local authorities that they have a responsibility to educate people about alerts in disaster-prone areas,” he told UCA News. 

Lake said his group sued Widodo, the environment and forestry minister and Central Kalimantan's governor in 2016 over haze in the province and won.

“The government must not only be firefighters, they should also get to the root of the problem by preventing companies from destroying the environment,” he said.

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