April 2017: Government cancels all SABL leases

After four years of public pressure, the Lands Department has finally stated it has cancelled all the SABL leases.

This is a major achievement for ACT NOW! which has been leading the campaign by civil society groups and individual communities since 2013.

The SABL leases had been used to illegally acquire rights to more than 50,000 square kilometres of customary land using fraudulently issued leases.

In 2011, civil society succeeded in persuading the government to instigate a Commission of Inquiry. The CoI reported in June 2013, uncovering widespread fraud and other abuses in the issuing of the leases.

The CoI recommended almost all the leases be revoked or renegotiated, but the Lands Department delayed its implementation of the recommendations for almost 4 years, despite a National Executive Council decision endorsing the Commission findings.

The cancellation of the leases is NOT the end of the issue though. As ACT NOW! has highlighted there remain a number of important steps the government needs to take to ensure justice for people affected by the land grab:

First, the Police Commissioner must ensure all police personnel are immediately withdrawn from SABL areas and they stop arresting and intimidating local people who are only trying to peacefully defend their land against illegal occupation and damage. As it is the logging and oil palm companies who are illegally occupying the land. It is the companies who should be ordered off the land or face arrest”.

Second, the Minister for Forests and PNG Forest Authority need to confirm that all logging operations in SABL areas have been permanently halted and all Forest Clearance Authorities issued for SABL areas have been cancelled.

Thirdly, the Attorney General needs to announce plans for assessing the compensation due to customary landowners who have been unlawfully deprived of the use of their land and, in some cases, have seen their forests destroyed and suffered extensive environmental and economic losses.

Finally, there must be no further attempts by the government to alienate customary land using Voluntary Customary Land Registration or any other legal mechanisms.