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Civil society groups call for inclusion in EU deforestation law talks

Civil society groups urge the European Union to include them in talks with Malaysia and Indonesia about the new anti-deforestation law, stressing their role in enforcing human and environmental rights.



Indigenous groups protest deforestation of their ancestral rainforests in Miri, Sarawak, October 2020. © 2020 The Borneo Project

A coalition of Indigenous, human rights and environmental organizations urged the European Commission today to include independent civil society groups in ongoing discussions with Malaysia and Indonesia concerning the EU’s anti-deforestation measures.

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

These talks are part of efforts to enforce the European Union Deforestation-free Products Regulation (EUDR), which took effect in May 2023 to combat global deforestation.

The law 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.

In June 2023, Malaysia and Indonesia, major producers of palm oil and timber, established a task force with the European Commission to address concerns about the EUDR’s implementation.

Despite the stakes, organizations representing communities directly impacted by deforestation have been notably absent from these critical discussions.

Celine Lim, Managing Director of SAVE Rivers, an Indigenous organization from Sarawak, Malaysia, highlighted the importance of the law. “We are hopeful that the EU deforestation law will support us to advance human and environmental rights locally, especially as local policies to safeguard these rights are lacking,” Lim stated.

The delegation, including members from SAVE Rivers, RimbaWatch, Bruno Manser Fonds, KERUAN, and Human Rights Watch, is engaging with EU officials in Brussels until May 31, 2024. They emphasize the necessity of including frontline community voices in the task force to genuinely grasp the impacts of the palm oil and timber industries.

Adam Farhan, Director of RimbaWatch in Kuala Lumpur, underscored the need for transparency. “Malaysian authorities severely underreport deforestation. Engaging with civil society can address these data gaps and ensure a transparent implementation of the EUDR,” Farhan explained.

Local groups have conducted significant research on deforestation risks, certification flaws, and community land rights. For instance, research by RimbaWatch revealed over 3.2 million hectares of natural forest in Malaysia remain under threat despite the EUDR’s cutoff in 2020. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has documented extensive violations of Indigenous rights in the logging and palm oil sectors.

Sayyidatiihayaa Afra, a researcher from Satya Bumi in Indonesia, lamented the exclusion of civil society from the EUDR discussions. “Civil society can collect crucial field data and document violations. Excluding us from the process hinders the resolution of technical and factual problems on the ground,” Afra stated.

As the next task force meeting is scheduled for September in Brussels, calls for including civil society voices grow louder, stressing their vital role in shaping an effective and just approach to combating deforestation in Southeast Asia.

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Europeans spent the last 3,000 years cutting down their expansive natural forests. In fact, deforestation is the reason why the Iberian Peninsula has an arid climate today.

While it is ironic that only after destroying their forests do they now care about deforestation. We should learn from the mistakes of history and preserve as much of our region’s own natural environment before it is all destroyed.

Now if only the ruling government of Singapore would bother to learn such lessons too.