Group of M'sian lawyers, doctors & economists want to sue Indonesia for RM1 (S$0.33) over haze

The group also charged the Indonesian government with failing to take responsibility for the matter.

Matthias Ang| September 16, 04:14 PM

A group of 24 Malaysian lawyers, doctor, economists and social activists have proposed suing the Indonesian government in the International Court of Justice for RM1 (S$0.33) over the ongoing haze.

In a letter sent to Malaysian media on Sep. 16, the group of professionals stated that their aim was to make Indonesia legally compelled to solve the current fires, and prevent future occurrences.

Indonesia has failed to take responsibility for the issue

The group highlighted that 1,619 fires were burning within the borders of Indonesia as of Sep. 11, and this number constituted the majority of the flames in the region.

As a point of contrast, their letter added that only five flames were burning within Malaysia and called out Indonesia's Minister for the Environment and Forestry, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, for claiming that the haze was caused by fires in Malaysia.

The group then alleged that this also reflected the Indonesian government's refusal to take moral and legal responsibility for the issue, and is failing its own citizens.

The letter read:

"The logical conclusion is that the fires in Indonesia are causing the haze, yet the Indonesian government is refusing to take moral and legal responsibility for it. Perhaps it’s easier to say 'we’re not responsible' than to say 'we’re irresponsible'.

Their refusal is all the more staggering when one considers that Indonesians themselves are currently suffering from the worst air quality readings in the world. In their refusal to admit responsibility, the Indonesian government is failing its citizens."

The group also alleged that steps taken over the past 20 to 25 years have failed.

These steps include:

Why the value of RM1?

The group elaborated that the rationale behind the decision to peg the lawsuit at RM1 was because the figure is largely symbolic, as they felt that the lawsuit could be seen as geopolitically contentious within the framework of ASEAN, which prizes non-interference.

The group also noted that the factors contributing to the haze were many, such as corruption and palm oil.

Their proposal of a RM1 lawsuit was for the following reasons:

  1. It is challenging to calculate the exact damages,
  2. Any calculation on the actual number will waste crucial political efforts and divert attention from the aim of putting out the fires, and
  3. Asking for billions of ringgit in damages will spark unnecessary tension.

The group also wrote:

"We want a constructive lawsuit and not an aggressive or punitive posture, further explaining the symbolic figure of RM1. On balance, we believe that a lawsuit that compels a legal responsibility on the Indonesian Government is both respectful and morally necessary, for their citizens and for ours."

Singapore's Transboundary Haze Pollution Act was an inspiration

The group further referenced Singapore's passing of the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act in 2014, and how it allows the Singaporean government to take action against overseas firms that cause or contribute to fires that result in haze here.

In taking some cues from the Act, the group added that their lawsuit will also include following the solutions:

  1. Malaysia must provide expertise and aid to Indonesia in fighting the fires, and must treat Indonesia as an equal partner while doing so,
  2. Malaysia must also take legal action in Malaysian courts against any Malaysian companies guilty of fires in Indonesia, and 
  3. That Malaysia's civil society should partner with the civil society of Indonesia to share knowledge and expertise on the matter.

Mahathir to write to Jokowi

The letter comes in the wake of a statement by Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Sept. 15, that he would write to Indonesian President-elect Jokowi Widodo about the issue, Free Malaysia Today reported.

Mahathir further added that he would do so once evidence has been gathered showing that the haze does not come from Malaysia.

He also dismissed the possibility of a long-term plan until there was cooperation from other countries.

Mahathir stated:

"We have always wanted to have a long-term plan but it requires cooperation from other countries. So until we get this cooperation, it’s not possible for us to have any credible plan."

Top photo by MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images