Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Please lend your voice by adding your signature to a petition against violations of Native Customary Rights (NCR), Rights to Land, and Right to Livelihood of the Indigenous People (Orang Asal) of Sarawak, East Malaysia.

Petition : Violations of the Native Customary Right, Right to Land, and Right to Livelihood of Indigenous Groups in Sarawak .

The latest edition of SPEAK OUT entitled ''Rampaging the Rainforests'' was launched at the 'Randau Pemansang' (Forum on Development of Indigenous People) organised by the Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA) in Bintulu, Sarawak on 21 February 2009. More than a hundred indigenous people and community leaders converged to once again call for a stop to violations of their Native Customary Rights (NCR) and for the oil palm industry and state government to follow the guidelines set by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

“Rampaging the Rainforests” contains the findings and recommendations of an International Fact Finding Mission (IFFM) regarding the land rights of the indigenous peoples of Sarawak. Jointly organised by SADIA, Tenaganita, People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) and Pesticides Action Network Asia & the Pacific (PAN AP), the IFFM was composed of Justice Pana Chand Jain of Centre for Community Economics and Development Consultants Society (CECOEDECON) from India, Ravadee Prasertcharoensuk of Sustainable Development Foundation (SDF) from Thailand and Debra Erenberg of Rainforest Action Network (RAN) from the United States.

The IFFM investigated instances of NCR violations that have grown to exceed a startling 170 claims. It visited over 19 communities consisting of 70 villages and long houses, met with about 825 people from the north to central and south of Sarawak and looked into increased cases of violence against and harassment of indigenous community leaders. It established through interviews with the people, documents provided by the people and evidences found in the form of graves, fruit trees and cultivated land that the land areas claimed by the Dayaks do fall under their NCR.

The Sarawak Land Code [CAP81] clearly recognises the NCR lands and has defined the elements that give recognition to NCR to land. Further to this the Federal Court decision of Madeli Salleh vs government of Sarawak states very clearly that the customary rights of inhabitants were recognised and accepted by the British crown when it governed Sarawak. It became part of common law. These customary rights therefore are part of common law and thus must be recognised and protected.

Justice Panachand said, “Registration was not a necessary pre-requisite for such holdings to be recognised. The court concluded that the judicial commissioners’ findings (in the earlier hearings) that NCR in Sarawak was only created by Section 66 of the Land Settlement Ordinance, Chapter 27, was erroneous as NCR had pre-existed over the land before any statute or legislation was enacted.” He said further, “The Federal Court has recognised and re-affirmed the pre-existence of NCR via the Madeli case. So I find it very strange and illogical that this historic judgment is not implemented by the executive branch. In other countries, this disrespect would have amounted to a contempt of court.”

However, as Nicholas Mujah, Secretary General of SADIA said, “In many instances, representatives from the oil palm industry, with the assistance of state enforcement agencies and the police deliberately destroy evidences and desecrate graves and cultural artifacts that are used as evidence to claim the land rights of the Dayaks.” Aside from the issue of NCR, the indigenous people have also been experiencing other problems which they shared during the forum.

A leader from Sibu, James Adau said, “The floods have carried pesticides used in the palm oil plantations to our rivers and poisoned our waters. This means that the government is poisoning us.” Moreover, he encouraged all the indigenous peoples to rise up against all injustices “for we have no other choice”.

An Iban, Douglas Alau Tayan shared how they are being marginalised in their own land. He said, “The Ibans are 60 per cent of the population in Sarawak and yet we are identified as ‘others’ in the context of the Malaysian national registration.”

In Kampung Wawasan area, villagers reported that an oil palm company repeatedly sent thugs to pressure them to sell their land. Although the community filed more than 20 reports, the police never came. These clearly indicate that the plantation industry and the state government are acting against the letter and the spirit of the Principles and Criteria of the RSPO.

The land disputes also violate the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) that was adopted by the 61st Session of the United Nations Assembly on 13 September 2007. Article 26 states, “Indigenous peoples have the rights to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or uses, as well as those which they have otherwise occupied.” Further, “States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the custom, traditions and land tenure systems of the indigenous peoples concerned.”

The Dayaks, indigenous peoples of 40 ethnic groups dominantly inhabiting Sarawak, have occupied and cultivated thousands of hectares of land for generations through adat (custom), a body of beliefs, social norms, customary laws and traditional practices. Adat also pertains to the indigenous peoples’ land ownership and control. Each community has its own menoa (territory) and neighboring villages have identified boundaries to these communal territories that include forests, bodies of water, farmlands and other resources.

Today, large oil palm plantation companies backed by the state agencies and in collusion with the local government, threaten the Dayaks’ existence and their NCR. Sarawak has witnessed a highly rapid and aggressive expansion exercise to establish large-scale commercial cultivation of oil palm over the last decade and a half—albeit mostly on indigenous land sequestered through questionable means. This has led to growing conflicts between indigenous peoples and state-owned and private corporations in Sarawak.

Copies of the SPEAK OUT were distributed during the forum and indigenous community leaders have taken them back for a subsequent signature campaign in their respective areas.

An online copy of the SPEAK OUT “Rampaging the Rainforests” can be viewed at Moreover, to support the online petition for the indigenous people of Sarawak, please sign on here.


Nicholas Mujah
Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA)
Irene Fernandez

Sarojeni V. Rengam
Executive Director
Pesticides Action Network Asia & the Pacific (PAN AP)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Logging, land clearing caused mass fish deaths in S'wak

Feb 20, 2009
Logging, land clearing caused mass fish deaths in S'wak

MIRI: The unusual mass deaths of fish in Sarawak inland rivers recently was caused by suffocation due to siltation triggered by logging, plantations and land-clearing projects, according to the Ministry of Environment and Public Health.

Investigations found that certain developers had taken advantage of loopholes in environmental assessment laws to carry out their projects without having to go through scrutiny by his ministry, said Assistant Minister Dr Abang Abdul Rauf Abang Zen said on Friday.

In very frank press conference here, Dr Rauf said the blame for the "fishy" phenomenon lay squarely with these development companies.

Over the past two months, tonnes of fishes from inland river tributaries in several parts of Sarawak had suddenly died en-masse. This phenomenon was seen in Bakun, Mukah, Kapit, Marudi and even in the Baram River near Miri.

The worst-hit river was the Balui River in Bakun, the site of the RM6 billion hydro-electric dam project in central Sarawak.

Dr Rauf said on Friday that he and the enforcement officers from the Sarawak Natural Resources and Environment Board had gone personally to investigate the dead fish cases.

"We carried out investigations from helicopters and on the ground and had carried out tests on water-samples and on the dead fish.

"It was found that the fishes died because of suffocation. For example in Bakun, there was a very high degree of suspended solids in the rivers in Belaga, Balui and Baleh - six to 20 times the normal level.

This was caused by logging and land-clearing in the upstream of the Bakun hydro dam. The death of the fishes was not due to the dam construction itself," he said.

Dr Rauf said his ministry found that some giant timber companies had by-passed Environmental Impact Assessment requirements by splitting their projects into very small packages.

Under the state EIA law, any development project measuring 500 hectares and above must be subjected to EIA.

"These companies split their projects into small packages in order to escape the EIA. For example, some companies with licence to open 10,000 hectares of land had split their project into small ones measuring 499 hectares each.

"By doing this, they escape the need to carry out EIA. This happened in the upstream of Bakun. That is why these projects had caused excessive siltation and killed a lot of fish. These fish were washed down by the rivers during the floods," he explained.

Dr Rauf said his ministry will hold a meeting with members of the Sarawak Timber Association early next month to find a way for them to cooperate to stop the environmental degradation.

He said the state government wants to balance the need for land development with the need to protect and conserve the environment and its natural resources because interior folks depended on these natural assets for their daily survival.
Sunday February 22, 2009
Bakun area overlogged, says SAM

MIRI: The Bakun hydro-electric dam catchment area has been overlogged by more than 40,000ha, an environmental group said.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) said the original catchment area for the Bakun project in central Sarawak, as stipulated in the first environmental impact assessment report, was supposed to be 64,000ha.
However, more than 100,000ha have already been logged, said SAM field officer for Sarawak Jok Jau Evong, adding that ground studies in Bakun showed that forests outside the original catchment area had been subjected to intensive logging.
“It seems that the logging is being carried out all the way from Bakun to the forested areas earmarked for clearing under the proposed Murum Dam project.
“A large portion of the forest within the Murum Dam area has already been logged,” he told The Star yesterday.
He said the whole area from Bakun to Murum would eventually be cleared of all timber.
“SAM is worried that the ecosystem will suffer even greater damage because of the massive land clearing,” he said.
Evong was commenting on Assistant State Environment and Public Health Minister Dr Abang Rauf Abang Zen’s statement that tonnes of fish in Bakun had died recently due to excessive siltation in the Bakun catchment area.
He said this practice had caused serious siltation in the river systems in Bakun and had contributed to the suffocation of a large number of fishes.
Under Sarawak’s Natural Resour­ces and Environment Board laws, any land development project measuring 500ha and above must be subjected to EIA scrutiny and approval.
Evong said the authorities must monitor all land development projects regardless of the size because all of them contribute to destruction of the environment, riverine resources and wildlife.
Dr Rauf, when asked yesterday how big an area had been logged in the Bakun catchment region, replied that he did not have the exact figure.