What Rainforest?

WHAT’S “WHAT RAINFOREST?” (sticky post, scroll down for updates)
September 12, 2008, 1:48 am
Filed under: Campaign

What Rainforest? is a non-profit collective of individuals and NGOs concerned about the state of the Malaysian rainforests and its inhabitants.

What Rainforest was launched to counter the myth perpetuated by the government and pro-logging, pro-plantation corporate interests that everything is fine with the Malaysian rainforest.

The common rhetoric is Malaysia is under 65% forest cover AND amazingly that figure has not reduced since Rio Summit 1992 even though thousands and thousands of hectares including production forests in so-called Forest Reserves were cleared for development. Promoter of oil palm, possibly the biggest deforestation driver will have you believe that this monoculture plantation is as good as forest and that will push up Malaysia forest cover to 80%.

We also aim to highlight the human rights violations, loss of native customary rights (NCR) land and the poverty entrenchment of the indigenous people of Malaysia that is at the heart of deforestation since 1970s.

Currently, we aim to highlight these plights through posting related media reports on this website and by organizing public awareness campaigns.

Through this, we hope to achieve the following by working with (or pressuring, when necessary) the governments, industry, NGOs, and all relevant stakeholders:
– Restore the rights of the indigenous people of Malaysia
– Stop deforestation
– Reverse deforestation

What Rainforest? is also the title of a film that inspired its filmmakers to start this campaign and website. We constantly seek venues where we can organize screenings to create more awareness on the issue. If you are interested to screen the film at your school, college, university, church, temple, synagogue, clubhouse, office, home, or backyard or your friends and communities; do drop us an email at whatrainforest@gmail.com.

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Delaying Justice – a film by Hilary Chiew
May 27, 2011, 12:18 pm
Filed under: Films, Indigenous People, Land, Logging, Oil Palm, Social

Indigenous communities which are experiencing land grabs for all sorts of development projects, particularly logging and plantations, are turning to the court for justice. However, this inevitable road is often bumpy and strewn with further anxieties, intimidations and is potentially fatal.

A film by Hilary Chiew
30 mins 11 secs

Endemic Scourge
July 14, 2010, 1:25 am
Filed under: Indigenous People, Land, Logging, Oil Palm, Politics, Social

From FreeMalaysiaToday
13 July 2010
By Hilary Chiew

It is systematic and endemic, screamed the A Wider context of Sexual Exploitation of Penan Women and Girls in Middle and Ulu Baram, Sarawak, Malaysia report.

Indeed, from the testimonies gathered from the victims, family members and their fellow tribe members, it does seem that sexual violence against the Penans has taken on a life of its own and the ‘monster’ has grew over the years.

This ‘monster’ firmly established itself with both Federal and state governments, and enforcement authorities that continue to turn a deaf ear to the cry for help from those remote and isolated settlements.

The Penan Support Group, Forum Asia and Asian Indigenous Women’s Network (PSG et al) findings released last week, again showed the vulnerability and long suffering of the Penan’s fairer sex in the vast logging frontier of the Baram district in Sarawak. The district is as vast as the state of Perak.

The report from a fact-finding mission conducted in November 2009 followed an alert issued by the
Bruno Manser Fund in September 2008. The issue gained national attention after a national English daily, The Star, published interviews with three of the victims identified by BMF in October, 2008.

Subsequently, two of the victims lodged police report with the sexual crime division of Bukit Aman.

One of them, ‘Bibi’ has since retracted her statement and claimed that she was ‘duped’ by NGOs into filing the case. According to Sarawak press report, she also implied that the NGOs disguised as members of media in obtaining and publishing her confession.

Sarawak police has warned to take stern action against those who manipulated the victim as well as the victim herself if it’s found that she was lying. However, until this day, no one knows what was the conclusion.

Interestingly, and this has been pointed out by others who followed the development of the issue, the police doesn’t seem bothered by the fact that the so-called husband of ‘Bibi’, a logging company worker, known as Ah Hing, who accompanied her to the police station, is a polygamist, an offence for non-Muslim in this country.

It is disheartening to learn that the other victim was pressured to do the same as ‘Bibi’ by her alleged perpetrator in the company of the police, according to land rights activist Muhin Urip in an interview with Malaysiakini suggesting attempt to cover up the hideous crime instead of thoroughly investigating the allegations of rape professionally. Looks like the police has a lot to answer to.

Denial syndrome

Apart from producing a report, which it refused to make public despite its initial promise but was forced to do so due to political pressure, the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development has basically sat on its hands and do nothing.

Nevertheless, the taskforce’s report admitted that sexual exploitation of the Penans’ womenfolks is indeed happening. Even then, the state government disputed it and questioned the reliability of the taskforce simply because it consisted of women rights NGOs representatives. Never mind that more than two-third of the taskforce members consisted of civil servants including from the state’s own
women affairs department.

The PSG et al effort was initially mooted as a form of assistance to the police to gain access to the victims who had understandably lost their confidence in the professionalism and impartiality of the force which over the decades was seen to be taking the side of the logging companies in oppressing the people who are defending their land rights.

The excuse given by the police for failing to follow through on this initiative which it eagerly embarked on between late 2008 and early 2009 following public outcry and the police reports filed by the two alleged victims is common knowledge now. And highly unpalatable to many sound-thinking Malaysians.

Hollow rhetorics

Eighteen months later and yet another report – this time more comprehensive and argued objectively in the context of a socio-economic development model that has further disempowered and impoverished the forest-dependent communities – the authorities’ reactions remain unchanged.

Sarawak deputy chief minister Alfred Jabu who is in-charge of Penan Affairs dismissed the report as act of sabotage against the state’s progress and the Penans are manipulated by foreign NGOs in his trademark rebuttal on anything to do with Penans. The state police chief Mohmad Salleh accused the PSG et al of politicising the issue and bent on shaming the police.

But as more such reports surfaced, such rhetorics are sounding like hollow, broken records.
Indeed, acknowledging the deep distrust of the Penans towards the authorities, PSG et al has again offered to work together. The report called for state and federal authorities and all stakeholders (logging and plantation companies) to fundamentally change their attitude and approach.

The group, in my opinion, certainly has an open agenda as it claimed. It certainly did not wish for the endemism to worsen as it wrote: “Or are we simply looking at another report such as this one, in five years’ time, ten years’ time, documenting the same abuses, the same deterioration, the same violence?”

Only way to test the sincerity of the NGOs is for the authorities to take up the challenge and work with them.

Thorn in the flesh

To understand the Penans disillusion with the state government and its apparatuses and in turn the shabby treatment that they are receiving, one has to understand the history of their protracted struggle.

The Penans’ continued resistance against encroachment by logging companies and in more recent time, plantation companies, had made them enemy No. 1 of Taib Mahmud’s regime. The state government particularly resents the international attention that the Penans continue to enjoy despite the ill-fated international campaign to save the Borneo rainforests in the late 1980s.

Ministers like Jabu and James Masing (Land Development Ministry) showed their disdain by labelling the Penans as ‘stooge of foreign NGOs’ and ‘good storyteller’.

The contempt towards the Penans goes back a long way; since the advent of industrial logging in Sarawak from the 1970s. Known for erecting blockade to stop trucks from ferrying felled timber in what they claimed as their ancestral forests, the underdog image of Penans eventually caught the eye and sympathy of Western rainforests campaigners.

The peaceful blockaders quickly became the poster boy of the largely Western-led campaign. However, compelling argument from then Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamed that these westerners should instead focus on their own governments and societies that are the market forces for the cheap timber from the Penan heartlands, the campaign fizzled out.

The result was the birth of timber certification scheme such as the Forest Stewardship Council and our own government-backed Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme. However, the success of MTCS in ensuring legality and sustainability, two key criteria of any timber certification scheme, continue to be questioned at the international marketplace largely due to pressure from local and foreign NGOs.

For example, the Malaysian Forest NGOs and Indigenous Peoples’ Network had denounced the MTCS for failure to respect indigenous land rights in its quest to promote Malaysian timber abroad.

These days blockades had taken on a more urgent note as the Penans as well as other Orang Ulu tribes like Kenyah, Kayan and Lun Bawang are faced not with degradation of their forests but a complete uprooting of their ancestral domain only to be replaced with oil palm and mono-species timber tree cultivation.

As a signatory of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the Malaysia government has the obligation to ensure that the cultural identity of the indigenous peoples of Sarawak that is shaped and connected to the forest is preserved.

Article 8.2 of UNDRIP dictates that States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for: (a) Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities.

Let’s hope that when Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak visits the Penan, these commitments are not forgotten.

In the interest of transparency, the writer wish to inform that she was the Star’s journalist who verified the BMF’s alert by obtaining first-hand information from the alleged victims.

Hello Eastern Times
May 2, 2010, 9:25 am
Filed under: Campaign, Films, Indigenous People, Land, Logging, Media Reports, Oil Palm

Hi everyone,
Much apologies for the hiatus of this blog. We’ve been extremely busy and to be absolutely honest, in a way, ignored the existence of this page. But hey… we’re back.

Today I present to you the saga between Hilary Chiew and The Eastern Times as a result of the former presenting Penusah Tana to an audience in London. Here goes…

April 14, frontpage on the Eastern Times

April 15, frontpage on the Eastern Times… again (thanks for the publicity)

The Eastern Times, having realized the error of their ways, but not really

Hilary Chiew’s rebuttal to the Eastern Times, 29 April 2010

On April 14, three days before a film-screening intended for a Malaysian crowd was scheduled in London, the Sarawak-based newspaper, Eastern Time, front-paged a story drawing attention to the event.
It was to be the screening of my documentary film – Penusah Tana (The Forgotten Struggle).
In a highly unusual publicity of the event, veteran journalist James Ritchie implied that the film presented a false picture of the Penan’s long-standing resistance against logging.
Interestingly, he included his interview with Ajang Kiew, the protagonist of the film, of which the senior Penan admitted to his involvement in past blockades – the peaceful protest method employed by the Penan that has come to symbolise their defence of their forest home in the high-profile international campaign to save Sarawak rainforest.
Notwithstanding the fact that Ajang Kiew has decided that he has enough of the confrontational ways and now preferred to engage in ‘give and take’ discussions, the historical facts remain that he was a veteran blockader as depicted in the film.
As I won’t pretend to be able to comprehend the hardship that Ajang has suffered all those years, so I would not judge him for his decision in his old age.
However, I did make it a point at the screening in London to mention that Ajang has abandoned the struggle and no longer heads the Sarawak Penan Association.
Never did Mr Ritchie contact me to verify if indeed his interpretation of the event was correct. Neither did he check with the host of the event that the screening was a campaign against Malaysian timber and oil palm plantation industries as he virtuously proclaimed.
I have never met Mr Ritchie and couldn’t have possibly offended him to warrant such a personal attack that was so apparent in the following article next day in the same newspaper, again on the front-page.
In the second article, he wrote: Failing in her attempts to sway local public opinion by raising emotional issues such as the alleged rape of Penan schoolgirls, Chiew is now treading on the trodden path of foreign NGOs bent on attacking Malaysian primary industries.
As was typical of mainstream media reporting, particularly timber company-owned Sarawak newspapers, on conflicts arising from commercial logging in the state for the last quarter century, Mr Ritchie pointed his finger to western media/NGOs evil interference.
Alas, he would be disappointed. Neither was western media invited to the screening nor was there presence of western environmental NGOs.
As for the Penan rape case – public outrage was evident from the number of letters, sms-es, local NGOs and official responses carried in major newspaper and online publications. The Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development promptly set up a task force and the police launched an investigation. The taskforce’s report acknowledged that sexual violation of Penan women and young girls was indeed a problem afflicting the marginalised Penan community. Until today, the police has neither officially announced its investigation results nor decisions on the matter.
Mr Ritchie surely is aware of the Ministerial Penan Task Force Report which incidentally included the testimonies of the two young victims highlighted in my articles.
In the last few years, the plight of the Penan is also documented by the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) in the agency’s own independent investigations which showed that the Penan are worst off today than they were 20 years ago and the underlying cause being the unsustainable logging practices sanctioned by the state.

Note to Editor:
The said documentary was premiered in Malaysia in 2007 and screened at numerous venues and is viewable on the website http://www.whatrainforest.com

Further Reading:

Free Malaysia Today

The Malaysian Mirror

Another 15 Indigenous Peoples Detained in Sarawak
September 18, 2009, 2:37 pm
Filed under: Indigenous People, Land, Oil Palm, Press Release

Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia
Media Release

Another 15 Indigenous Peoples Detained in Sarawak

18 September 2009

Sri Aman, Sarawak – After the arrest and release of 15 indigenous people in Sarawak on Malaysia Day, another 15 indigenous Iban have been reported arrested in the Pantu District in Sarawak, for the alleged crime of harvesting oil palm fruits that have been grown on their native land. This was done in response to a police complaint filed by trespassing company Pelita-Tetangga Akrab.

From reports on the ground, the group consisted of 20 Iban but the 5 women in the group were allowed to go free. Though there are no plans to charge the group, the police claim to be unable to release the 15 men until their statements are taken. To add insult to injury, they will have to spend a night in custody due to a lack of a photocopy machine with which to make copies of their identification documents.

“This is a clear case of harassment,” said Nicholas Mujah, Secretary General of the Sarawak Dayak Iban Association. “They are not going to be charged and yet they will have to spend one night in the custody of the police. It shows that the companies are able to exert influence over the police and government.”

The communities’ farm land was taken by Pelita-Tetangga Akrab in 2003 in a joint venture to plant oil palm, despite immediate protest and the filing of a court case by the communities affected. Though they have claimed to do this JV with the community, the vast majority of the communities rejected the project and their right to free, prior and informed consent ignored.

As a desperate measure, the villagers have taken to harvesting the oil palm fruit that was grown on their land. Though numerous reports and complaints to the police have been made by the villagers, these have fallen on deaf ears.

“The government wants the natives to not leave their NCR lands idle. But when the native communities want to develop their own land by planting cash crops such as oil palm, they are being penalised”, said Mark Bujang, Executive Director of Borneo Resources Institute, Malaysia (BRIMAS).

In Sarawak, native land rights are recognized by the Sarawak State Constitution and their rights to these lands have been reaffirmed through several key judgments in the Malaysian Courts.

For more information please contact:
Nicholas Mujah (+6-016-876)

Jen Rubis
Media Liaison
Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia/ Indigenous Peoples Network of Malaysia

My Dirty Dozen Rears Ugly Head
September 17, 2009, 3:22 am
Filed under: Campaign, Dams, Indigenous People, Land, Press Release

The 12 dams poised to dot Sarawak (from hereon will be referred to as ‘My Dirty Dozen’ in this post and all post in What Rainforest?) has reared its damned ugly head. We received an email from Jaringan Orang Asal Semalaysia (JOAS) informing us of the arrest of 15 of its members as they attempt to hand over a memorandum to the CM of Sarawak in protest of My Dirty Dozen… Here is what JOAS sent us…

16 September 2009

As Malaysia commemorates its 46th anniversary, 15 indigenous Sarawakians have been detained by Kuching police at 2:45pm today for trying to send a memorandum of protest to the Sarawak Chief Minister. Among those arrested are Mark Bujang (BRIMAS), Raymond Abin (BRIMAS) and Hellan Empaing (WADESA), all leaders of the Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (Indigenous Peoples Network of Malaysia) as well as representatives from the Kayan, Kenyah and Penan communities of Sarawak.

The contingent, consisting of 6 Penan, 4 Iban, 2 Kayan and 3 Kenyah are all representatives of communities who will be affected by two major dams which are being built in their areas. They had prepared a memorandum on the issue and were delivering it to Wisma Bapa Malaysia, the office of the Chief Minister. While waiting for endorsement of the document, they were arrested by local police. They are currently being held in the Kampung Gita Police Station in Petra Jaya, Kuching, Sarawak. It is uncertain whether they are being charged, or what reasons are being given for their detention.

Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia strongly condemns the detention of its members who were attempting to deliver a memorandum on behalf of the indigenous peoples of the Baram and Murum areas of Sarawak. The memorandum protested the State Government’s actions to build hydro electric dams in these areas without the free, prior and informed consent of the communities affected and without due regards to the status of the native lands involved. The actions of the State Government are in clear contradiction to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Malaysia strongly supports.

We also condemn the use of arrest to intimidate and silence the voices of the communities who are questioning the construction of large dams on the area. This demonstrates the unwillingness of the State Government to ensure the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples in projects that affect them.

We call upon the Sarawak State Government to immediately release all fifteen Sarawakians and engage in a proper consultative process with the affected communities. We also call for the respect of the constitutional native land rights of these communities. It is also in violation of the right to peaceful assembly, guaranteed under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution.

Take action:
1. URGENT: Please phone the Gita police station and ask after the well-being of the activists, ask what they are being charged with and demand their unconditional release in line with Constitutional guarantees of freedom of assembly (Article 10). Tel: ++6 082-254417

2. Write to the following:
Chief Minister of Sarawak
YAB Pehin Sri Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud
Chief Minister of Sarawak
22nd Floor, Wisma Bapa Malaysia,
Petra Jaya, 93502 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia
FAX: +6082-444566

2. YB Datuk Amar Wilson Baya Dandot
State Secretary of Sarawak
20th Floor, Wisma Bapa Malaysia
Petra Jaya, 93502 Kuching,
Sarawak, Malaysia
FAX: +6082-441677

3. Datu Haji Abdul Razak Tready
Sarawak Attorney-General
State AG’s Chambers
Level 16, Wisma Bapa Malaysia,
Petra Jaya
93502 Kuching,
Sarawak, Malaysia
FAX: +6082-440525

4. Tan Sri Musa bin Dato’ Hj Hassan
Ketua Polis Negara
Ibu Pejabat Polis Diraja Malaysia
Bukit Aman,50560 Kuala Lumpur
FAX: +603-22731326

5. Datuk Mohmed Salleh
Ketua Polis Negeri
Ibupejabat Polis Kontinjen Sarawak
Polis Diraja Malaysia
Jalan Badruddin,93560 Kuching,
Sarawak, Malaysia
FAX: +6082-257664

Yours truly,

Adrian Lasimbang
Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS)

For more information, please also contact:

Jennifer Rubis

Penan girls and women were sexually violated
September 10, 2009, 4:33 am
Filed under: Indigenous People, Logging, Media Reports, Social

from The Nut Graph
by Ding Jo Ann, 09 September 2009

PETALING JAYA, 9 Sept 2009: Nearly a year after, a government task force report has confirmed that Penan women and children in Sarawak were raped and sexually abused by timber workers.

The report by the national task force set up in October last year also found troubling incidents of children as young as 10 years old being sexually abused by the timber companies’ truck drivers when they took the children to school.

The task force reported that students were “frequently molested” by the truck drivers.

“In one account, the truck driver molested a 14-year-old’s breasts on the journey to school,” the report, written in Malay, said.

It said that in another incident, a girl was taken away by the truck driver after the boys were told to get down from the vehicle. Other girls in the truck managed to escape, but were unable to help that one girl get down in time.

In yet another instance, a girl was riding, together with her father, in a timber truck to go to Long Bangan to apply for her identity card. “Halfway through the journey, the passengers were told to alight, but the driver hung on to Mary (not her real name) and sped off. He then stopped the truck, dragged her to a bush by the side of the road and tried to molest her.

“Her father and the other passengers ran after the truck after realising that Mary had been apprehended, and managed to catch up with them and stop any further abuse,” the report said.

An interviewee told the task force she had been raped by the timber company’s truck driver on her way to a neighbouring longhouse, in addition to being raped when she was 12 outside the school compound by an unidentified man.

“She recalled that the government used to provide vehicles to take them home from school during the term breaks. However, this had been discontinued, so they had to rely on the timber companies as the only means of transportation,” the report noted.

In the absence of any viable alternatives such as proper tarred roads or school buses, Penan children who live in the interior are entirely reliant on the timber companies for transport as some of their schools are located four to six hours away by truck.

The report was prepared mostly from interviews conducted by ministry officials and other representatives, including women’s groups, in November 2008 when they visited the Penan community in Sarawak. The task force was set up to investigate the allegations of rape and sexual abuse of Penan women and girls in the Baram district.

Surprising release

After close to a year of not wanting to make the report public, the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry released a copy of the report to Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) Wanita chief Zuraida Kamaruddin on 8 Sept.

“After months of unanswered calls and letters to the minister, I went to see the minister (Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil) yesterday and was informed by her staff that I could collect the report,” Zuraida told The Nut Graph over the phone.

The report was subsequently made available to The Nut Graph via e-mail.

No explanation was given by the ministry as to why the report could not be made public initially. The ministry has also yet to explain why it took so long to make the report available to the public despite numerous calls to do so in the interest of public accountability.

Bigger picture

Apart from documenting the individual instances of rape and sexual abuse, the task force also found that the Penan were especially vulnerable because of their low socioeconomic status and lack of access to government and healthcare services.

The factors that cause the community’s vulnerability include overdependence on timber companies for transportation and other services, poverty, and the remoteness of their villages.

The report also cited the Penan’s distrust of the authorities, and their low self-esteem as a result of prejudices against them.

“All these factors — sexual violations, not having ICs, health problems, dropping out of schools — are closely related to imbalanced development. The lack of roads and public transportation causes the Penan difficulties in engaging with the outside world, including government agencies.

“In order to ensure more balanced development, the involvement of the Penan in matters that affect their lives must be increased,” the report said.

The report also made several specific proposals to address sexual abuse, including raising awareness within the Penan community on personal safety, violence towards women, and sex education.

“Teachers in Penan schools would also need to be educated to be sensitive to the specific needs and difficulties faced by the community,” the report said.

The task force also proposed for “trusted vehicle drivers” and a pupil management assistant to accompany the Penan children back to their villages. No specific proposals were mooted on how to make it easier for those who have been raped and sexually abused in the Penan community to report such incidents.

Despite the task force’s findings, it remains to be seen whether any of the offenders will be charged and brought to justice for the sexual abuse perpetrated on the Penan women and children. Although several police reports have been made, it is unclear whether the police will be investigating the matter.

Blockade negotiations: Penan refuse to meet Sarawak officials at the proposed meeting point
August 27, 2009, 4:15 pm
Filed under: Indigenous People, Land, Logging, Oil Palm, Press Release

from Bruno Manser Fonds
27 August 2009

High-ranking Sarawak government delegation on the way to Penan villages – Meeting over blockades to take place tomorrow

Native Penan leaders from the East Malaysian state of Sarawak are refusing to meet a high-ranking Sarawak government delegation at the proposed meeting point in Long Bedian, a Kayan long-house in the Tutoh river region. According to Penan sources, the meeting is to take place tomorrow, 28 August 2009.

“We are open for talks with the government, but we refuse the proposed meeting point at Long Bedian”, a Penan spokesperson commented to BMF. The Penan feel humiliated by a statement of Abang Johari, the former Sarawak Minister of Penan affairs and current Minister of Housing, who alleged in The Borneo Post that foreigners were behind the logging road blockades.

“We expect the official delegation to meet us at the blockade sites or at a Penan village. It is essential for the officials to see the dire situation of our villages with their own eyes and to hear the voices of our people.”

Long Bedian, a Kayan long-house, is a regional centre for the Apoh-Tutoh region, which is strongly influenced by the presence of several logging companies.

A week ago, the Penan set up three blockades at strategic logging road locations to prevent vehicles of four logging companies – Samling, Shin Yang, KTS and Interhill – from removing timber from their native lands. In particular, the Penan aim at stopping plantation projects that would involve the conversion of large tracts of secondary forests into oil palm, acacia and eucalyptus plantations.

Getting Rich in Malaysia Cronyism Capital Means Dayak Lose Home
August 26, 2009, 4:21 pm
Filed under: Dams, Indigenous People, Land, Logging, Media Reports, Oil Palm, Politics, Pulp & Paper, Social

By Yoolim Lee
from Bloomberg.com
24 August 2009

Aug. 25 (Bloomberg) — After a stomach-churning takeoff from a 550-meter runway at Long Banga airstrip on the Malaysian side of the island of Borneo, the 19-seat plane soars over a green tropical wilderness. This is one of the world’s last remaining virgin rain forests.

About 30 minutes into the flight to the bustling oil town of Miri, the lush landscape changes, and neatly terraced fields of oil palms take the place of jungle. Twenty years ago, this was forestland. Now, those forests are lost forever.

The shift from rain forest to oil palm cultivation in Malaysia’s Sarawak state highlights the struggle taking place between forces favoring economic development, led by Sarawak state’s chief minister, Abdul Taib Mahmud, and those who want to conserve the rain forest and the ways of life it supports.

During Taib’s 28-year rule, his government has handed out concessions for logging and supported the federal government’s megaprojects, including the largest hydropower site in the country and, most recently, oil palm plantations. The projects are rolling back the frontiers of Borneo’s rain forest, home to nomadic people and rare wildlife such as orangutans and proboscis monkeys.

At least four prominent Sarawak companies that have received contracts or concessions have ties to Taib or his family.

Transforming Malaysia

The government of Malaysia plans to transform the country into a developed nation by 2020 through a series of projects covering everything from electric power generation to education. The country’s gross domestic product, which has been growing at an average 6.7 percent annual pace since 1970, shrank 6.2 percent in the first quarter.

In Sarawak, Taib’s government is following its own development plans that call for doubling the state’s GDP to 150 billion ringgit ($42 billion) by 2020. Sarawak Energy Bhd., which is 65 percent owned by the state government, said in July 2007 it plans to build six power plants, including hydropower and coal-fired generators.

The state government also wants to expand the acreage in Sarawak devoted to oil palms to 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) by 2010, from 744,000 at the end of 2008, according to Sarawak’s Ministry of Land Development. Companies that formerly chopped down hardwood trees and exported the timber are now moving into palm plantations.

Lawsuits Filed

Meanwhile, many of the ethnic groups who have traditionally lived from the land in Sarawak — known as Dayaks — have filed lawsuits that aim to block some projects and seek better compensation.

Sarawak’s ambitions could be hindered by a lack of good governance, which would shut out overseas investors, says Steve Waygood, head of sustainable and responsible investment research at Aviva Investors in London, which manages more than $3 billion in sustainable assets.

“Even just the perception of corruption can lead to restricted inflows of capital from the global investment community into emerging markets such as Sarawak,” says Waygood, who wrote about reputational risk in a 2006 book, “Capital Market Campaigning” (Risk Books).

“The largest and most responsible financial institutions are very careful to avoid funding unsustainable developments,” he says.

Unilever, which buys 1.5 million tons of palm oil a year — 4 percent of the world’s supply — for use in products such as Dove soap and Flora margarine, announced in May that it would buy only from sustainable sources.

No Direct Purchases

“Unilever does not source any palm oil directly from Sarawak,” says Jan Kees Vis, Unilever’s director of sustainable agriculture. “We buy from plantation companies and traders located elsewhere.”

He says Unilever has committed by 2015 to buy all of its palm oil from sources certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a group representing palm oil producers, consumers and nongovernmental organizations that seeks to establish standards for sustainably produced palm oil. The Malaysian Palm Oil Association, a government-supported group of Malaysian plantation companies, is a member of the RSPO.

About 35 percent of the world’s cooking oil comes from palm — more than any other plant, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And 90 percent of the world’s palm oil comes from Malaysia and Indonesia.

Skittles and Soap

The oil is an ingredient used in everything from Skittles candy to Palmolive soap to some kinds of biodiesel fuel. Palm oil futures have climbed 45 percent this year as of Aug. 24 on concern that dry weather caused by El Nino may reduce output. Crude oil prices rose to a 10-month high of $74.24 a barrel, spurring demand for biodiesel.

Malaysia lost 6.6 percent of its forest cover from 1990 to 2005, or 1.49 million hectares, the most-recent data available from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization show. That’s an area equivalent to the state of Connecticut.

Neighboring Indonesia lost forestland at the fastest annual rate among the world’s 44 forest nations from 2000 to 2005, Amsterdam-based Greenpeace says.

“Palm oil is the new green gold after timber,” says Mark Bujang, executive director of the Borneo Resources Institute in Miri, a city of about 230,000 people in Sarawak. “It has become the most destructive force after three decades of unsustainable logging.”

While Malaysia’s palm oil exports have more than doubled to a record 46 billion ringgit in 2008 from 2006, according to the country’s central bank, the gain has come at a price.

Displaced People

Development projects and palm plantations have displaced thousands of people, some of whom have lived for centuries by fishing, hunting and farming in the jungle. Almost 200 lawsuits are pending in the Sarawak courts relating to claims by Dayak people on lands being used for oil palms and logging, according to Baru Bian, a land rights lawyer representing many of the claimants.

A handful of activists have been found dead under mysterious circumstances or disappeared, including Swiss environmental activist Bruno Manser, who vanished in the jungle in 2000.

Cutting down rain forests to cultivate palms in Sarawak has consequences far beyond Malaysia, says Janet Larsen, director of research at the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute.

The forests that are being destroyed help modulate the climate because they remove vast stores of carbon from the atmosphere. Chopping down the trees ends up releasing greenhouse gases.

‘Lungs of the Planet’

“These last remaining forests are the lungs of the planet,” Larsen says. “It affects us all.”

Chief Minister Taib, 73, has multiple roles in Sarawak. He’s also the state’s finance minister and its planning and resources management minister — a role that gives him the power to dispense land, forestry and palm oil concessions as well as the power to approve infrastructure projects.

Until last year, Taib held the additional role of chairman of the Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corp., which fosters wood-based industries in the state.

Anwar Ibrahim, the former Malaysian finance minister who’s the head of the country’s opposition alliance, sees parallels between Taib’s rule and those of other long-standing leaders in Southeast Asia, such as former Indonesian President Suharto and former Philippine leader Ferdinand Marcos.

“It’s an authoritarian style of governance to protect their turf and their families,” says Anwar, who was fired as deputy prime minister by then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in 1998 and jailed on charges of having homosexual sex and abusing power. The sodomy conviction was overturned in 2004.

‘Driven by Greed’

Sim Kwang Yang, an opposition member of parliament for Sarawak’s capital city of Kuching from 1982 to 1995, agrees with Anwar’s assessment. “It is crony capitalism driven by greed without any regard for the people,” he says.

Taib’s adult children and his late wife, Lejla, together owned more than 29.3 percent of Cahya Mata Sarawak Bhd., the state’s largest industrial group, with 40 companies involved in construction, property development, road maintenance, trading and financial services, according to the company’s 2008 annual report.

Local residents jokingly say that the company’s initials, CMS, stand for “Chief Minister and Sons.”

In total, CMS has won about 1.3 billion ringgit worth of projects from the state and the federal government since the beginning of 2005, according to the firm’s stock exchange filings.

Taib declined to comment for this article. In an interview he gave to Malaysia’s state news agency, Bernama, on Jan. 13, 2001, Taib said CMS’s ties to him had nothing to do with its winning government jobs.

‘Not Involved’ in Contracts

“I am not involved in the award of contracts,” he said. “No politician in Sarawak is involved in the award of contracts.”

He told Bernama he doesn’t ask for special treatment of his sons. “I never ask anybody to do any favors,” he said.

Mahmud Abu Bekir Taib, the elder of Taib’s two sons, is CMS’s deputy chairman and owns 8.92 percent of the firm, according to the annual report. Sulaiman Abdul Rahman Taib, the younger son and CMS’s chairman until 2008, holds an 8.94 percent stake.

Taib’s two daughters and his son-in-law are also listed in the annual report as “substantial shareholders.”

Taib’s History

Taib, a Muslim who belongs to the Melanau group — one of about 27 different ethnic groups in Sarawak — entered politics at the age of 27 after graduating from the University of Adelaide in Australia with a law degree in 1960.

He held various ministerial positions in Sarawak and Malaysia before taking over in 1981 as the chief minister from his uncle, Abdul Rahman Yaakub. Rahman, now 81, ruled Sarawak for 11 years.

Taib, who has silver hair, appears almost daily on the front pages of Sarawak newspapers, sometimes sporting a goatee and a pair of rimless glasses, at the opening of new development projects or local events.

He lives in Sarawak’s capital city of Kuching, an urban area of about 600,000 people on the Sarawak River. Its picturesque waterfront is dotted with colonial buildings, the legacy of British adventurer James Brooke, who founded the Kingdom of Sarawak in 1841 and became known as the White Rajah. Brooke’s heirs ruled the kingdom until 1946, when Charles Vyner Brooke ceded his rights to the U.K. Sarawak joined the Federation of Malaysia on Sept. 16, 1963, along with other former British colonies.

Cousin’s Role

At Taib’s mansion, which overlooks the river, he receives guests in a living room decorated with gilt-edged European-style sofa sets, according to photos in the July to December 2006 newsletter of Naim Cendera Holdings Bhd., which changed its name to Naim Holdings Bhd. in March.

Naim is a property developer and contractor whose chairman is Taib’s cousin, Abdul Hamed Sepawi. He is also chairman of state power company Sarawak Energy and timber company Ta Ann Holdings Bhd., and is on the board of Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corp. and Sarawak Plantation Bhd.

Naim and CMS jointly built Kuching’s iconic waterfront building, the umbrella-roofed, nine-story Sarawak State Legislative Assembly complex. Naim has won more than 3.3 billion ringgit worth of contracts from the state and the federation since 2005, its stock exchange filings show.

Companies Respond

Ricky Kho, a spokesman for Naim, said the company declined to comment for this article. Naim’s deputy managing director, Sharifuddin Wahab, said in an interview with Bloomberg News in July 2007 that the chairman’s family ties weren’t why the company won government contracts.

“We have been able to execute our projects on time, we stick to the budget and the quality of what we hand over to the government is up to their expectations, if not more,” he said.

“Our teams have always acted professionally” when working with the government, whether on large or small projects, CMS’s group managing director, Richard Curtis, said in an e-mail. “CMS is governed by the strict listing regulations of the Malaysian stock exchange,” he said, adding that the chairman and the group managing director are both independent.

“The large projects carry with them an equally large risk, including a huge reputational risk, particularly for crucial projects by the government,” he said. “It is the government’s prerogative and discretion to award projects using a variety of approaches that includes open and closed tenders as well as directly negotiated processes, to the contractors and developers they feel will deliver the project as promised.”

Malaysia’s reputation as a place to conduct business has deteriorated in recent years, according to Transparency International, the Berlin-based advocacy group that publishes an annual Corruption Perceptions Index.

‘Monument of Corruption’

Transparency ranked the country 47th out of 180 in 2008, down from 43rd in 2007. Transparency also has singled out the Bakun Hydroelectric Dam, under construction on the Balui River in Sarawak, as a “monument of corruption.”

The index lacks fairness, says Ahmad Said Hamdan, chief commissioner of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, because it doesn’t take into consideration the size of the population of the countries in the ranking, for example.

“I’ve seen a lot of improvement in civil service in the past 10 years,” he says.

Dead Fish

Early this year, hundreds of dead fish started floating on the muddy river near the Bakun dam site. The fish were killed by siltation, which was triggered by uncontrolled logging upstream, Sarawak’s assistant minister of environment and public health, Abang Abdul Rauf Abang Zen, says. He says the Bakun dam has very strict environmental assessments and isn’t to blame for the siltation.

In January, Tenaga Nasional Bhd., Malaysia’s state- controlled power utility, and Sarawak Energy said they won approval from the national government to take over the operation of the hydropower project through a leasing agreement. Sarawak Energy also won preliminary approval to export about 1,600 megawatts of electricity from the 2,400-megawatt Bakun project, once it begins operating, to Peninsular Malaysia. The remaining power will go to Sarawak.

Taib announced a plan called New Concept in 1994. The aim was to bring together local people, with their customary rights to the land, and private shareholders, who would provide capital and expertise to create plantations. The plan called for companies to hold a 60 percent stake in the joint ventures, the state to own 10 percent and the remaining 30 percent to go to local communities in return for a 60-year lease on their land.

‘Emotional’ Disputes

That time period equals about two complete cycles of oil palm development. An oil palm typically matures in 3 years, reaches peak production from 5 to 7 years and continues to produce for about 25 years, says Nirgunan Tiruchelvam, a commodities analyst at Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc in Singapore.

The policy has led to some disagreements. In his interview with Bernama in 2001, Taib said land acquisitions by the state have led to “emotional” disputes because some people seek too much compensation.

“We are not allowed to pay more than market value,” he told Bernama. He said people need to prove that they have traditionally lived in an area — for example, by providing an aerial photograph — in order for the state to grant them title to the land.

“If there are disputes, they go to the court,” Taib told Bernama.

Some local people say they received no compensation at all for their land. In Kampung Lebor, a village about a two-hour drive from Kuching, 160 families, members of the Iban group that was formerly headhunters, live in longhouses and survive by fishing and some farming. The Iban are Sarawak’s largest single group of Dayaks, who make up about half of the state’s 2.3 million population.

Land Overlap

In mid-1996, the state handed out parcels of land that overlapped with the community’s customary hunting and fishing areas to the Land Custody and Development Authority and Nirwana Muhibbah Bhd., a palm oil company in Kuching.

In mid-1997, the authority and the company cleared the land with bulldozers and planted oil palm seedlings, according to a copy of Kampung Lebor’s writ of summons filed to the High Court in Kuching.

Government ‘Cruel’

“The government is cruel,” says Jengga Jeli, 54, a father of five in Lebor. “Fruit trees have been cut down. It’s become harder to hunt and fish. Now we are forced to get meat and vegetables from the bazaar, and we are very poor.” Jengga’s village filed a lawsuit in 1998 against Nirwana, LCDA and the state government in a bid to get compensation.

The case was finally heard in 2006 and is now awaiting judgment, according to Baru Bian, who is representing the Iban in Kampung Lebor. Reginal Kevin Akeu, a lawyer at Abdul Rahim Sarkawi Razak Tready Fadillah & Co. Advocates, which is representing Nirwana and LCDA, declined to comment.

The cases show that the development projects, including plantations and dams, haven’t helped poverty among the local people, many of whom live without adequate electricity or schools, says Richard Leete, who served as the resident representative of the United Nations Development Program for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei from 2003 to 2008.

Poverty Remains

“This is the paradox of Sarawak — the great wealth it has, the natural resources in such abundance, and yet such an impoverishment and the real hardship these communities are suffering,” says Leete, who chronicled Malaysia’s progress since its independence from Britain in his book “Malaysia: From Kampung to Twin Towers” (Oxford Fajar, 2007). “There has no doubt been a lot of money politics,” he says.

In the rugged hills about 150 kilometers (93 miles) south of Kuching, some 160 Bidayuh families, known as the Land Dayaks, are clinging to their traditional habitat, while a dam is under construction nearby. They live by farming and fishing.

With only a primary school in the village, children have to go to boarding schools outside the jungle to get further education, crossing seven handmade bamboo bridges and trekking two hours over the hills when they return home.

The state has offered the Bidayuhs 7,500 ringgit per hectare, 80 ringgit per rubber tree and 60 ringgit per durian fruit tree in compensation for their native land, says Simo ak Sekam, 48, a resident of Kampung Rejoi, one of four villages in the area. In Rejoi, about half of 39 families have refused.

Bamboo Bridges

“We don’t want to move because we are happy here,” Simo says. “We feel very sad because our land will be covered with water. The young generations won’t know this land. They won’t see the bamboo bridges.”

The builder of the local reservoir is Naim Holdings — the company headed by Chief Minister Taib’s cousin. The government awarded Naim the 310.7 million-ringgit contract without putting it out for bids. Naim’s statement announcing the deal in July 2007 said it won the job on a “negotiated basis.”

One of the most threatened groups is the Penan, nomadic people who live deep in the jungle on the upper reaches of the Baram River. On a steamy equatorial morning in late October 2007, Long Kerong village leader Kelesau Naan and his wife, Uding Lidem, walked two hours to their rice-storing hut. Kelesau, who was in his late 70s and who had protested logging activity in their area, told Uding he’d go check on an animal trap he had set nearby. He never came back.

Skull and Bones Found

Two months later, his skull and several pieces of his bones, along with his necklace made of red, yellow and white beads, surfaced on the banks of the Segita River. Inspector Sumarno Lamundi at the regional police station says the investigation is ongoing.

It was just the latest tragedy among activists working for the Penan since the early 1990s, when rampant logging took place. At least two other Penan were found dead, including Abung Ipui, a pastor and an advocate for land rights for his village. His body was found in October 1994 with his stomach cut open.

Manser, the Swiss activist for the rights of the Penan, vanished without a trace from the Borneo rain forests in May 2000 and was officially declared missing in March 2005.

Kelesau’s death has made the Penan willing to stand up for their survival.

“We are scared of something terrible happening to us if we don’t resist,” says grim-faced Bilong Oyoi, 48, headman of Long Sait, a Penan settlement close to Long Kerong.

Penans’ Resistance

Bilong, who wears a traditional rattan hat decorated with hornbill feathers, says his group is setting up blockades to resist logging activities. They are also working with NGOs to get attention for their plight and filing lawsuits.

With the help of the Basel, Switzerland-based Bruno Manser Fund, an NGO set up by the late activist, Bilong and 76 other Penan sent a letter — which some signed using only thumb prints — to Gilles Pelisson, the chief executive officer of French hotel chain Accor SA.

The letter urged Accor to think twice about partnering with logging company Interhill Logging Sdn. to build a 388-room Novotel Interhill in Kuching. The Penan community says Interhill’s operations in Sarawak have a devastating effect on them. Accor responded by sending a fact-finding mission to Sarawak to investigate Interhill’s logging activities.

“If the worst-case scenario occurs and if no action plan is implemented, we will not continue with our partnership,” Helene Roques, Accor’s director for sustainable development in Paris, said in June. In mid-August, she said she expects “good results” by the end of September.

Rio Tinto Venture

No foreign investor has made a larger bet on Taib’s development plans than Rio Tinto Alcan, a unit of London-based mining company Rio Tinto Plc. A joint venture between Rio Tinto and CMS for a $2 billion aluminum smelter has been negotiating power purchase agreements with Sarawak Energy for more than 12 months, according to Julia Wilkins, a Rio Tinto Alcan spokeswoman in Brisbane, Australia.

CMS meets Rio Tinto’s requirements as a joint-venture partner, she says. “CMS is a main-board-listed company with its own board of directors,” she says. “It has a free float of shares in excess of the minimum market requirement. The chairman and the group managing director are both independent.”

Malaysia grants special economic advantages to the country’s Malay majority and the local people of Sabah and Sarawak states on Borneo, collectively referred to as Bumiputra — literally, sons of the soil.

Still, the country is leaving behind many of its ethnic minorities, says Colin Nicholas, a Malaysian activist of Eurasian descent who has written a book about the mainland’s oldest community, “The Orang Asli and the Contest for Resources” (IWGIA, 2000).

‘Completely Powerless’

One person trying to help the Dayaks is See Chee How, 45, a land rights lawyer who became an activist after meeting Sim, the former opposition member of parliament in Kuching.

In 1994, See witnessed an attack on Penan demonstrators who’d erected a roadblock to prevent logging trucks from driving through their land. A 6-year-old boy died after security forces used tear gas on the demonstrators, he says.

“They were completely powerless,” recalls the soft-spoken, crew-cut See, sporting a white T-shirt and a pair of jeans, in his office above a bustling market in Kuching. “They were depending on logging trucks to move around because their passageways had been destroyed by logging trails.” See now works with Baru Bian, 51, one of the first land rights lawyers representing the Dayaks in Sarawak.

Lawsuits and Votes

Nicholas says Sarawak’s people have to fight for their rights not only through lawsuits but by voting.

“The biggest problem we have with indigenous people’s rights is that we have the federal government and state government run and dictated by people who have no respect or interest for indigenous people,” he says. “We need a change of government.”

The prime minister’s office declined to comment.

Opposition leader Anwar says change is possible. His alliance won control of an unprecedented five states in Peninsular Malaysia in a March 2008 election. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s ruling coalition has lost at least four regional polls held this year.

“I think this is a turning point,” Anwar says.

Still, Taib’s coalition won 30 of Sarawak’s 31 seats in March 2008 parliamentary elections. That helped the ruling National Front coalition led by then Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi retain a 58-seat majority, ahead of Anwar’s People’s Alliance. Sarawak is due to hold the next election by 2011.

Taib defended his government’s program to turn forestlands into oil palm plantations as a way of improving living standards for the Dayaks at a seminar on native land development in Miri on April 18, 2000.

“Land without development is a poverty trap,” he said, according to his Web site. Many Dayak people, who have seen their land transformed as a result of Taib’s policies and companies linked to him, say they are still waiting to see their share of wealth.

To contact the reporter on this story: Yoolim Lee in Singapore at yoolim@bloomberg.net

Are Penan girls worth so little?
August 26, 2009, 4:46 am
Filed under: Indigenous People, Logging, Media Reports, Social

letter by Katrina Jorene Maliamauv
from Malaysiakini.com
Aug 25, 09 5:04pm

The bile is rising in my throat.

For more than ten years at least, Penan girls have been raped, violated and sexually abused. The Penan women in the community have been at dire risk of various forms of sexual assault and harassment. Young school-going girls have made the difficult step to come forward and say that they have been raped by members of the logging companies.

The life and dignity of a Penan woman, however, appears to be worth less than RM3,600.

Investigations into the allegations of rape and abuse by loggers in Sarawak against the Penan girls have led nowhere. Today, the Sarawak police say they can only afford the RM100,000 needed to pay for police personnel, and not the RM3,600 proposed to pay for the much-needed Penan-Malay translators, if the six-day investigation into these allegations were to be carried out.

The police can spend RM15 million on a by-election in Kuala Terengganu, but RM3,600 to pay for an essential part of an investigation into rape of children is too much?

By the way, how much was spent by the police on “guarding public interest” during the recent peaceful assembly in Kuala Lumpur?

Is the interest of the people in power worth more than the safety, security and basic rights of the Penans?

Due to the lack of confidence in the Sarawak police among the local community, suggestions have been put forth in the past by numerous groups, including a coalition of NGOs and the Malaysian Bar Council that Bukit Aman should lead this investigation. Bukit Aman has apparently said that it’s up to the Sarawak contingent.

On Oct 7, 2008, it was reported in the Star that the then Women, Family and Community Development Minister Dr Ng Yen Yen had announced the setting up of a task force to look into the plight of Penan women and girls.

“We are going to investigate this thoroughly. This cannot happen, and we must protect our women and children, especially those in the minority groups,” Ng had said. What has happened since?

All this buck passing between Bukit Aman and Sarawak, and the deafening silence from the powers that be (or at most, politically correct lip service) has left a bitter taste in my mouth. If it really is a question of RM3,600, I say with utmost certainty that that money can be raised in a jiffy. But we all know that that isn’t the real reason now, is it?

It seems abundantly clear to me that children can get raped in Malaysia, and yet we’re too busy covering our own rears and interests. The more serious questions therefore are what interests are these? And whose rears are we covering?

At the end of the day, what is the worth of a Penan girl? In this 1Malaysia, it’s apparently not much at all.

Road-blocking Penan communities fear imminent police action
August 24, 2009, 8:59 am
Filed under: Indigenous People, Land, Logging, Press Release

from Bruno Manser Fonds
24 August 2009

Communities protesting against planned oil palm and acacia plantations on their native lands

LONG BANGAN / LONG NEN / LONG BELOK, Sarawak / Malaysia. Three indigenous Penan communities in the rainforests of Borneo are fearing police action on account of their protest against oil palm and acacia plantation projects on their native lands.

Last Thursday, 20 August, Penan of Long Nen, Long Bangan and Long Belok in Sarawak’s Tutoh river region set up manned road blockades to prevent vehicles from a number of logging and plantation companies from entering their native lands.

According to Penan sources, four policemen visited the blockades on Sunday and announced that they would come back with more of their colleagues to dismantle them. The blockades are mainly directed against Pusaka KTS and Samling, two controversial Malaysian logging and plantation giants.

Both companies have been logging the Penan’s forests for over twenty years and have been granted licences to convert large tracts of the Penan’s lands into oil palm and acacia plantations. The Penan have continuously resisted the companies’ operations, and the companies were only able to gain access to their lands after armed police broke up a road block and arrested dozens of villagers back in the late 1980s.

While logging has depleted the communities’ forests to an extent that has caused a timber shortage at local level, the Penan fear that the conversion of their lands into plantations will permanently deprive them of their natural resources.

Until recently, the Penan have been living in the rainforests of Borneo as South-East Asia’s last nomadic hunter-gatherers. Most of them have settled in villages but still depend on the forest for their livelihood.

The Sarawak government refuses to recognize the Penan’s land rights and even chose to ignore a call by the Malaysian human rights commission, SUHAKAM, to recognize the Penan’s land claims.

Due to the large number of land conflicts between indigenous communities and the government, a coalition of Malaysian indigenous rights organizations has recently called for a moratorium on new plantations.

Penan Blockades In Baram
August 24, 2009, 3:30 am
Filed under: Indigenous People, Land, Logging, Media Reports, Oil Palm, Press Release, Pulp & Paper

Penan tribespeople with spears man a blockade as plantation company vehicles approach in Long Nen in Sarawak State

Penan tribespeople with spears man a blockade as plantation company vehicles approach in Long Nen in Sarawak State

AFP photo

A last ditch effort to save whatever forests is left is underway in the Baram region in Sarawak. Penans of Long Belok, Long Bangan, and Long Nen has setup blockades to prevent companies that include Samling, Rimbunan Hijau, Shin Yang, and KTS from further converting heavily logged forest into oil palm and acacia plantations.

Below are 2 reports by the Agence French Presse (AFP) and the Borneo Post with the latter accusing the AFP journalists of being ‘foreigners’ ‘instigating’ the Penans. This is then followed by BRIMAS’ press release in response to the Borneo Post article.

Read them all to watch the media circus performed by the Borneo Post (and what I think is the most amusing nut graph in journalistic history). Its a little long, but the tragedy (which is sometimes humourous) is well worth it.

Malaysia’s Penan tribe ups anti-logging campaign
By Sarah Stewart (AFP)
23 August 2009

LONG BELOK, Malaysia — Hundreds of Penan tribespeople armed with spears and blowpipes have set up new blockades deep in the Borneo jungles, escalating their campaign against logging and palm oil plantations.

Three new barricades, guarded by Penan men and women who challenged approaching timber trucks, have been established in recent days. There are now seven in the interior of Malaysia’s Sarawak state.

“They are staging this protest now because most of their land is already gone, destroyed by logging and grabbed by the plantation companies,” said Jok Jau Evong from Friends of the Earth in Sarawak.

“This is the last chance for them to protect their territory. If they don’t succeed, there will be no life for them, no chance for them to survive.”

Penan chiefs said that after enduring decades of logging which has decimated the jungles they rely on for food and shelter, they now face the new threat of clear-felling to make way for crops of palm oil and planted timber.

“Since these companies came in, life has been very hard for us. Before it was easy to find animals in the forest and hunt them with blowpipes,” said Alah Beling, headman of Long Belok where one of the barricades has been built.

“The forest was once our supermarket, but now it’s hard to find food, the wild boar have gone,” he said in his settlement, a scenic cluster of wooden dwellings home to 298 people and reachable only by a long suspension bridge.

Alah Beling said he fears that plans to establish plantations for palm oil — which is used in food and for biofuel — on their ancestral territory, will threaten their lifestyle and further pollute the village river with pesticide run-off.

“Once our river was so clear you could see fish swimming six feet deep,” he said as he gestured at the waterway, which like most others in the region has been turned reddish-brown by the soil that cascades from eroded hillsides.

Indigenous rights group Survival International said the blockades are the most extensive since the late 1980s and early 1990s when the Penan’s campaign to protect their forests shot to world attention.

“It’s amazing they’re still struggling on after all these years, more than 20 years after they began to try to fight off these powerful companies,” said Miriam Ross from the London-based group.

Official figures say there are more than 16,000 Penan in Sarawak, including about 300 who still roam the jungle and are among the last truly nomadic people on Earth.

The blockades, which Friends of the Earth said involve 13 Penan communities home to up to 3,000 people, are aimed at several Malaysian timber and plantation companies including Samling, KTS, Shin Yang and Rimbunan Hijau.

After clearing much of the valuable timber from Sarawak, a vast state which lies on Malaysia’s half of Borneo island, some of these companies are now converting their logging concessions into palm oil and acacia plantations.

“They told us earlier this month they were coming to plant palm oil, and I said if you do we will blockade,” said Alah Beling.

“They told us we don’t have any rights to the land, that they have the licence to plant here. I felt very angry — how can they say we have no right to this land where our ancestors have lived for generations?”

Even on land that has been logged in the past, Penan can still forage for sago which is their staple food, medicinal plants, and rattan and precious aromatic woods which are sold to buy essential goods.

“Oil palm is worse because nothing is left. If they take all our land, we will not be able to survive,” the Long Belok headman said.

Sarawak’s Rural Development Minister James Masing admitted some logging companies had behaved badly and “caused extensive damage” but said the Penan were “good storytellers” and their claims should be treated with caution.

“The Penan are the darlings of the West, they can’t do any wrong in the eyes of the West,” he said.

Masing said disputes were often aimed at wringing more compensation from companies, or stemmed from conflicts between Penan and other indigenous tribes including the Kenyah and Kayan about overlapping territorial claims.

He said the current surge in plantation activity was triggered by Sarawak’s goal to double its palm oil coverage to 1.0 million hectares (2.47 million acres) — an area 14 times bigger than Singapore.

“The time we have been given to do this is running short. 2010 is next year so we want to make that target and that is why there may be a push to do it now, to fulfil our goal established 10 years ago,” he said.

“In some areas the logging has not been done in accordance with the rules and some of the loggers have caused extensive damage. That does happen and I do sympathise with the Penan along those lines,” he said.

“But the forest has become a source of income for the state government so we have to exploit it”.

Driving through the unsealed roads that reach deep into the Borneo interior, evidence of the new activity is clear with whole valleys stripped of vegetation and crude terraces carved into the hills ready for seedlings.

Most of the companies declined to comment on the allegations made by the Penan, but Samling said it “regrets to learn about the blockades”.

“We have long worked with communities in areas we operate to ensure they lead better lives,” it said in a statement.

Its website says its acacia timber plantations in Sarawak will “enhance the health of the forests” and that it uses “only the most sensitive ways to clear the land”.

The Penan allegations could discredit Malaysia?s claims that it produces sustainable palm oil, particularly in Europe and the US where activists blame the industry for deforestation and driving orangutans towards extinction.

Indigenous campaigners say that past blockades have seen violence and arrests against tribespeople, but village chiefs — some of whom were detained during the 1980s blockades — said they did not fear retribution.

“We’re not afraid. They’re the ones destroying my property. Last time we didn’t know the law and now to protect ourselves, but now we know our rights,” said Ngau Luin, the chief of Long Nen where another barricade was set up.

An AFP team reporting at the blockades was photographed by angry timber company officials, and later intercepted at a roadblock by police armed with machineguns and taken away for questioning.

The plight of the Penan was made famous in the 1980s by environmental activist Bruno Manser, who waged a crusade to protect their way of life and fend off the loggers. He vanished in 2000 — many suspect foul play.

Copyright © 2009 AF

Foreign hands in blockades
from the Borneo Post
22 August 2009

Foreigners caught on camera mingling with and instigating Penans at Long Nen and Long Bangan blockades

MIRI: It’s confirmed! Foreigners are behind many of the blockades set up by Penans in timber camps in the state.

It has long been suspected that many foreign environmentalists and socalled conservationists had been instigating and encouraging the natives to erect blockades and disrupt logging activities, though they had always denied their involvement.

But yesterday four foreigners, including two women, were seen among protesters manning blockades in Ulu Baram.

This contradicts claims by local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that foreigners have never meddled in the internal affairs of the state.

The foreign nationals, believed to be an Australian, an Indian and two Dutch women, were seen at an access road at Long Bangan and Long Nen in Ulu Baram, orchestrating the protesters with signboards for pictures to be taken.

They were also seen mingling freely among the natives and giving out instructions.

The blockade at Long Nen erected about 6am was followed by another blockade about 2pm at Long Bangan, with the foreign nationals present at both places in an apparently coordinated arrangement and timing.

The wooden blockade structures were simple but the message was clear as the camps set up at the respective sites were manned by Penan men, women and children with the aim of disrupting logging and reforestation activities in the area.

Three major logging companies are operating in the area.

A logging camp manager yesterday lodged a report at the Long Lama police station about the activities of the four foreigners.

The report said they were seen together with the natives at the blockade sites.

Marudi police chief DSP Jonathan Jalin, when contacted, said police were aware of a few foreigners at the blockade sites.

He said the authorities were interested in finding out what their roles were in these blockades.

“They were also seen with the Penans in Long Lama and we are interested to find out who they are and what they are doing in the jungle with the Penans,” he said.

The protesters yesterday handed an unsigned written list of demands and notice to stop all lorries from passing through to a logging camp manager, to the foreigners and two journalists from The Borneo Post and See Hua Daily News who were at the scene. The group also handed out copies of a news clipping on about 3,000 Penans in Belaga facing starvation due to crop failure as claimed by Deputy Minister of Rural and Regional Development Datuk Joseph Entulu recently.

Entulu in that newspaper report claimed that the crop failure was due to attack by beasts from the jungle on their farms and this had happened in five out of six settlements while Minister of Land Development Dato Sri Dr James Masing attributed it to logging activities which rendered wild sago and wild games scarce.

Meanwhile, Long Bangan headman Unga Paren, when asked if foreigners were involved in the blockade, denied it, saying the blockades were all the work of the locals.

He admitted the presence of the foreigners at the Long Bangan blockade on Thursday, but claimed “they are tourists who left after a few minutes”, adding that he had no power to stop people from coming to the village.

“The blockade can only be removed after all the demands have been met,” said Unga.

He insisted that the villagers protested in a peaceful manner, but he did not deny that there might be people using the blockades to their advantage as many of them had video and digital cameras worth thousands of ringgit, complete with camera stands, manned by local Penans.

Unga said the locals resorted to setting up the blockades because of the decreasing jungle produce caused by logging activities and the failure to give approval for a Penan ‘forest reserve’.

However, the logging camp manager who lodged the police report yesterday, refuted Unga’s claims that the government had reneged on the ‘forest reserve’ proposal. “The timber camps operating in the area had allocated a large area of forest for the Penans to roam,” he said.

The headman said Long Bangan had a population of 400. Of the number, 20 (children) are studying in SK Long Bedian. Very few entered secondary schools. Most of those who did dropped out in Form 2 or 3. The most educated ones among them only completed Form 4.

The villagers are mostly farmers planting padi, maize, tapioca, banana and yams. They used to plant sago, which was introduced by the Agriculture Department many years ago, but they have all been felled. Unga claimed that getting medical attention was a problem for them as the ‘nearest’ clinics were miles away in Long Bedian or Long Kevok.

He also wanted the Flying Doctor Service to resume, saying it was much needed in the area, and hoped that the issue could be resolved soon.

22 August 2009

Foreign journalist labelled as instigators of Penan blockades

MIRI – Four foreign journalists were labelled as instigators by a local newspaper, the Borneo Post, for allegedly encouraging two Penan villages in Tutoh, Baram District, Sarawak for erecting blockades and disrupting the logging activities by logging companies in the area.

The Borneo Resources Institute, Malaysia (BRIMAS) learnt that the journalists were from the Agence France Presse (AFP) based in Kuala Lumpur and they were there doing interviews with the Penans in the Apoh-Tutoh areas of the Baram region.

At the time the two blockades were erected at Long Nen and Long Bangan, these journalists were coincidently there doing the said interviews.

However, the Borneo Post published a front page article headline ‘Foreign hands in blockades’ on 22 August edition and confirmed that foreigners were behind the many blockades set up by the Penans in timber camps throughout the state.

BRIMAS wishes to state the facts that the Penans from Long Nen and Long Bangan are not happy with Pusaka-KTS (PKTS) Forest Plantation Sdn. Bhd. for establishing an acacia and eucalyptus plantation within their native customary rights (NCR) land.

PKTS never obtained the villagers’ free, prior and informed consent when they wanted to establish the plantation and instead ignored the pleas and protests from the Penans which rejected the plantation.

It must be also pointed out that section 65B of the Sarawak Forest Ordinance Cap. 126 requires prior consent of NCR landowners before a Licence for Planted Forest (LPF) could be issued over the land.

As a result of PKTS non-compliance with the Forest Ordinance and disregarding the NCR of the Penans, these two villages decided to take direct action by erecting blockades to stop PKTS from further encroachment into their native customary land. It is through their own initiative that the Penans decided to erect the blockades and not orchestrated by foreigners as allege by the Borneo Post.

There are at least 20 other villages in and around Apoh-Tutoh, Baram region which are also affected by PKTS plantation. According to Friends of the Earth Report in 2008, the total area of PKTS plantation area in Apoh-Tutoh is approximately 90,427 hectares.

BRIMAS would like to urge PKTS and the Sarawak State Government recognise and respect the NCR of the Penans to their lands and forest resources. If PKTS’ LPF are overlapping over the NCR of the Penans and other native communities, then the state government should withdraw the LPF immediately.

BRIMAS also demands that PKTS stop all its clear-cutting activities on forested areas as this will further increase the rate of deforestation in Sarawak and undermining the biodiversity of the state.

The planting of exotic fast growing tree species like acacia and eucalyptus would only degrade the land further as these two species of trees are known to extract a lot of nutrients from the soil rapidly and render the soil infertile. Worst still, these trees are a fire hazard especially during the dry season as their leaves are quite flammable when dried due to the nature of the tree which needs heat to propagate it seeds.

PKTS is a joint venture company between the Sarawak Timber Industrial Development Corporation, also known as Pusaka, a state government agency and KTS Holdings Sdn. Bhd., a timber company based in Sibu, which also owns Borneo Post.

Statement issued by:
Mark Bujang
Executive Director, BRIMAS

PRESS STATEMENT on the arrest of Iban Headman Matek Geram
August 13, 2009, 11:19 am
Filed under: Indigenous People, Land, Oil Palm, Press Release

From Jaringan Orang Asal Semalaysia (JOAS)

13 August 2009

JOAS condemns arrest of Committee Member, reiterates call formoratorium on development projects

JOAS condemns the arrest of Matek anak Geram early this morning by the for the crime of allegedly restraining the workers of an oil palm plantation. He was taken into custody by ten fully-armed police personnel at 8.45am and detained for two hours at the Mukah Police Station and charged for allegedly wrongfully restraining the workers of an oil palm plantation company, Saradu Plantations Sdn Bhd. under section 341 of the Penal Code before being released on bail.

Matek, an Iban farmer, a member of TAHABAS (Sarawak Native Customary Rights Network) and Committee Member of JOAS was unarmed when he was arrested by the fully-armed police. For over a year, Matek and his immediate family have been guarding their property against Saradu Plantations who have been encroaching on their native lands. In individual shifts, they have blocked an access road built on their land. JOAS questions the heavy use of force and intimidation against one unarmed man and calls for neutrality of the state infrastructure in this legal dispute between the private company and indigenous peoples.

Saradu Plantation Sdn. Bhd. is a Sarawak oil palm company, which has been given 15,000 hectares of land by the state government to develop oil palm in Balingian. Saradu is also linked to the Sarawak Chief Minister as his brother-in law, Robert Geneid and sister, Raziah Mahmud are majority shareholders of the company.

Matek Geram’s case is just one of hundreds of land encroachment and conflict cases between indigenous peoples and oil palm plantation companies in Sarawak. In light of this, JOAS reiterates its support for the recent call from TAHABAS and other indigenous peoples organizations for a moratorium on plantation development projects. JOAS reiterates its position that the State Government-issued provisional leases are encroaching illegally into our constitutionally-recognized customary lands and forests.

Until the government moves towards a meaningful solution with the full and effective
participation and consent of indigenous peoples, incidences like Matek Geram will continue to take place throughout the state, to the detriment of the rights of indigenous Sarawakians, the sustainable development of the Sarawakian population and the image of the state of Sarawak and Malaysia.


For more information, please contact;
Hellan Empaing Chi Tungkat
Jaringan Orang Asal Semalaysia

Mark Bujang
Executive Director

Happy World Indigenous People Day & The Unholy Trinity
August 9, 2009, 9:45 am
Filed under: Campaign, Indigenous People, Land, Logging, Oil Palm

from http://www.survival-international.org

To mark the UN Day for Indigenous Peoples on 9 August, Survival International today named its ‘unholy trinity’ – the three worst companies abusing tribal peoples’ rights. They are:

1. VEDANTA. This FTSE-100 company is determined to construct a bauxite mine on the sacred hills of the Dongria Kondh tribe in Orissa, India. It has already built a $1 billion aluminium refinery at the foot of the hills. The Dongria Kondh, one of India’s most isolated tribes, are resolutely opposed to the mine, which will destroy them as a people.

2. PERENCO. A Franco-British oil company, Perenco is pushing ahead with drilling in the nothern Peruvian Amazon, despite being warned that its operations risk the lives of uncontacted Indian groups. The company’s plans have attracted two lawsuits from Peru’s Amazon Indians, but it has vowed to carry on.

3. SAMLING. Active in Sarawak, Malaysia, for four decades, Samling has been responsible for logging vast areas of rainforest, including the ancestral lands of the nomadic Penan tribe. The Penan have repeatedly blockaded logging roads in an attempt to halt the devastation of their forest, but much of it has now been destroyed. Many Penan have been arrested, and James Ho, Samling’s Chief Operating Officer, has said, ‘The Penan have no rights to the forest.’

Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said today, ‘Mining, oil drilling and logging – these three companies work in very different fields, but they have one thing in common – a total disregard for the lives of the people whose lands they are destroying. It’s the same old story – these companies want the resources, and don’t care what happens to the people. They may refer to ‘corporate social responsibility’ these days, but few are taken in – it’s the absolute pursuit of profit and the sweeping aside of self-sufficient people.’

For further information please call (+44) (0)20 7687 8734 or (+44) (0)7504 543 367 or email mr@survival-international.org

Corruption linked to Borneo deforestation
August 2, 2009, 10:22 am
Filed under: Films, Indigenous People, Land, Logging, Media Reports, Oil Palm

From AlJazeera English
July 15 2009

Once considered the green lungs of Asia, Borneo now provides a lucrative home for palm oil growers and timber corporations.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, the rate of environmental destruction in Borneo is faster than in the Amazon.

In the second of a three-part series, Al Jazeera’s Tony Birtley investigates the role of politics in the growth of palm oil plantations and timber concessions.

note: Segan Degon was mistakenly acknowledged as Jengga Ahak in this video.

Sir ‘Untouchable’
June 16, 2009, 1:13 am
Filed under: Indigenous People, Land, Logging, Media Reports, Oil Palm, Politics, Pulp & Paper

The Untouchable Tiong Hiew King of Rimbunan Hijau has become even more untouchable… The Queen Of England has recently knighted Tiong for his services to commerce, community and charitable organizations in Papua New Guinea.

That’s ‘Sir’ Tiong Hiew King for you from now on.

Below is the news report taken from The Star’s Starbiz section… but first, here’s a tribute to Sir Tiong, read ‘The Untouchables’, a report by Greenpeace on his venerated exploits in Papua New Guinea, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Malaysia, Vanuatu, Indonesia, New Zealand and Russia. Donwload it here: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/the-untouchables-rimbunan-hi

Tiong honoured knighthood
From Starbiz, The Star
16 June 2009

PETALING JAYA: Rimbunan Hijau Group founder and chairman Tan Sri Tiong Hiew King has been bestowed with one of the high honours in Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday honours’ list in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and will now be called “Sir”.

He was recognised for services to commerce, community and charitable organisations.

Also knighted were PNG’s Deputy Prime Minister Dr Puka Temu and Central Bank governor Wilson Kamit. They were among more than 90 people recognised for their services to the country in this year’s Queen’s birthday honours and awards.

Founded in 1975, Sarawak-based Rimbunan Hijau’s overseas timber operations in Papua New Guinea are the largest in that country. Tiong also has interests in logging operations in Russia.

With a reported net worth of about US$1.1bil, Tiong is ranked by Forbes as the 840th richest person in the world.

Unclear if Penan report will be public
May 26, 2009, 9:08 am
Filed under: Indigenous People, Logging, Media Reports

From The Nut Graph
by Zedeck Siew 26 May 2009

KUALA LUMPUR, 26 May 2009: It remains unclear if the 2008 government-led task force report about sexual violence against Penan women and girls will be made public.

Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil said the report has reached her desk and was ready for circulation to the other ministries. “It will be tabled in the cabinet as soon as possible,” she said today at a press conference after launching a seminar at the Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (Ikim).

However, earlier media reports say the task force’s findings were already submitted to the cabinet in January.

Additionally, when asked whether the task force report would be made public, Shahrizat said: “Interested parties can come to the ministry, and we can discuss the details of the report.”

She declined to say if the report would be fully disclosed and did not comment on reasons why the ministry could not publish the report publicly.

This is the first time Shahrizat has discussed the Penan task force report since her appointment as minister in April. It has been six months since the task force completed its investigations into allegations of sexual abuse against Penan women in the interiors of Sarawak.

The Penan task force was commissioned by the ministry under former minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen in October 2008. It was despatched to investigate claims that young Penan girls and women were sexually abused by logging company employees.

Various quarters from civil society have been calling for the report’s release.

“So long as the report is not shared with the public, the Penan community continues to become more vulnerable,” Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) executive director Ivy Josiah told The Nut Graph on 20 April.

Josiah, who was part of the task force, cautioned that the government may be guilty of neglecting the Penan community by withholding the task force’s findings.

“The investigations took place and a report has been produced. The government now has a responsibility to disclose the findings to the public,” stressed Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) programme director Prema Devaraj, who was also part of the task force.

Apart from the WAO and WCC, the task force also consisted of representatives from the police, government ministries such as the home and health ministries, and at least one representative from the indigenous community.

Their fact-finding mission in the Baram district of Sarawak was concluded in mid-November 2008.

Earlier, Shahrizat, who launched the “Family Institution Facing Contemporary Challenges” seminar this morning, stressed on the importance of families in Malaysian society.

She revealed that a National Family Policy was in its final stage of preparation.

“I believe that the National Family Policy, and its Action Plan, will be brought up for consideration and approval by the government this year,” Shahrizat said.

However, she declined to offer details of the policy, saying that it was too early for details to be disclosed

Natives get restless in PNG
May 26, 2009, 6:42 am
Filed under: Indigenous People, Logging, Media Reports

From The Star Online
25 May 2009 by Eddie Chua

Locals of Papua New Guinea, angry with decades of exploitation, corruption and illegal logging by foreigners, are turning to violence to show their displeasure.

THE riots against Chinese businessmen which rocked the Pacific island of Papua New Guinea (PNG), leaving a trail of destruction and at least one person dead, has shocked countries in the region.

A man was reportedly hacked to death as thousands of locals looted shops belonging to the Chinese community in Lae, the second largest city in PNG. The racially-motivated attack has received wide coverage in newspapers across the world, particularly in countries with a large ethnic Chinese population.

China, for example, has demanded safety for its citizens, Last week, construction of a nickel mine and processing plant was stopped after a fight between about 70 Papua New Guinean and Chinese workers. The mine’s part-owners, Australia’s Highlands Pacific Ltd, said on Friday that work had resumed on the US$1.7bil (RM4.2bil) project, it was reported.

Fighting had reportedly broken out between workers and villagers angry at Chinese managers over an industrial accident. The project is mostly owned by China Metallurgical Construction Group Corp.

Local workers protested last year over working conditions at the remote site. PNG is a mountainous nation of some six million people located north of Australia, and its people feel closer to Australia than their Asean neighbours.

Its small expatriate community comprises Australians, New Zealanders, Malaysians, Singaporeans, Chinese and Taiwanese. Papua New Guinea is rich in a variety of minerals and other resources but has significant crime problems, with at least 85% of its people living in poverty in villages. Resentment against foreigners, including even those from Malaysia and Singapore, has been high for some time. The situation has worsened in recent months because food prices have shot up while the income of the indigenous people have remained the same.

Chinese shopkeepers have been blamed for the price hike. For Malaysia, Rimbunan Hijau, the single largest timber operator, has long been a bane and boon for PNG. Operated by Sarawakian Tan Sri Tiong Hiew King, it runs the largest sawmill in PNG since 1976 with an estimated annual turnover of US$1bil (RM3.5bil).

It owns a supermarket and an English newspaper in PNG.

The reclusive Tiong also owns many Chinese newspapers worldwide including the Sin Chew Daily in Malaysia. But Rimbunan Hijau has been accused of alleged human rights abuses, ignoring indigenous people’s rights, political corruption and ecological destruction. The World Bank has also said up to 70% of logging in PNG is illegal, which has not helped the Malaysian image there.

Two groups that have made investigations and held protests against the company are Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network. But Rimbunan Hijau in turn has threatened to sue Greenpeace for defamation because of its report “The Untouchables – Rimbunan Hijau’s World of Forest Crime and Political Patronage” demanding that the group withdraw the paper.

Greenpeace has declined to comply. Rimbunan Hijau suffered another setback recently when PNG’s Supreme Court overturned the company’s right to operate in the vast Komula Dosa area comprising 791,000ha of logging land. Eco-Forest Forum, a local civil group, had challenged Rimbunan Hijau’s claim of its rights to log in the area granted by the National Court in 2007. The fight, whether in the courtrooms and newsrooms, by Rimbunan Hijau is unlikely to end. The Malaysian company owns The National which is the largest newspaper in the country. The company, which had been heavily criticised particularly by NGOs, was recently awarded the first independent certificate verifying its timber operations in PNG. The Societe Generale de Surveillance awarded Rimbunan Hijau’s subsidiary, Saban, an official citation stating its timber operations was 100% legal. But local NGOs have dismissed the award, saying groups critical of the operator were shut out of the verification process. The fears,
however, remain.

A study said that more than half of PNG’s forests, the third largest in the world, would be lost or badly damaged by 2027 because of “wasteful logging.” In the years ahead, the volatile political situation in PNG looks certain to explode with further resentment building up. A combination of factors ranging from exploitation of local workers, dominance of local trade by outsiders and the destruction of the forest can only see a rocky road ahead. Stories of harsh treatment of local workers has led to resentment with locals feeling they have been excluded from their own society by the influx of these relatively well-off traders, the AFP reported recently. With over 600 islands, PNG was one of the last places on earth which remained isolated and untouched, but greedy foreigners are raping this country with the help of corrupt government officials.

Eddie Chua is a news editor with special interest in the Indonesian archipelago and surrounding islands. He has also visited Papua New Guinea twice and has fond memories of the country.

Sarawak Gov’t Defeated In Landmark NCR Ruling
May 7, 2009, 12:34 am
Filed under: Indigenous People, Land, Logging, Media Reports, Oil Palm

by Tony Thien
from Malaysiakini.com 05 May 2009

The Federal Court has upheld the concept of native customary rights (NCR) to land as including not only one class of such land called temuda (cultivated land), but also pulau (communal forest) and pemakai menua (territorial domain).

The apex court delivered its ruling today in Kuching, in an application by the Sarawak government in a case initiated by local Malay Madehi Salleh to claim NCR rights over former Shell concession land in Miri.

Lawyers dealing in NCR cases were quick to point out the implications of the decision for some 200 land cases filed to date against the state government and companies that have obtained leases mainly for plantation and logging activities.

So long as NCR claimants can provide sufficient evidence to support their claims, logging and plantation companies may now find themselves in a quandary unless they are prepared to negotiate.

Madehi had taken the state government to court in 2007 over his rights to 6.6 acres of land and won the case.

However, the state government successfully appealed the decision in the Court of Appeal, following which Madehi turned to the Federal Court and won his case in October 2007.

The court recognised the pre-existence of NCR before the coming into force of any statue or legislation, in particular the Rajah Order of 1921. It said the reservation of the land under the Rajah’s Order for Sarawak Oilfields Ltd (SOL) did not have the effect of extinguishing NCR to the land.

There was no provision whatsoever in the Rajah’s Order that extinguished Madeli’s NCR to his tract of land, the judges said, noting that all it did was to reserve the land for SOL.

Furthermore, the Federal Court said native rights to occupy untitled land in accordance with customary laws subsisted in an area reserved for operation of SOL. Individual rights of natives were the same as communal rights, it added.

Application dismissed

The Sarawak government, unhappy with the decision, then applied to the Federal Court to review its own decision.

Today, however, the court disagreed that the applicants had met the threshold requirement and dismissed the review application with costs.

The Federal Court’s quorum comprised the Chief Justice of Sarawak and Sabah Richard Malanjun, Hashim Yusuf and Zulkifli Ahmad Makinudin.

Appearing for the applicants (Sarawak government) were State Legal Counsel JC Fong and his assistant Safri Ali. Miri-based lawyer Mekanda Singh Sandhu and his son Sathinda represented Madehi.

Sathinda told Malaysiakini later that the judgment can now be applied to all NCR land cases after this.

Millions of hectares of land have been leased out over the past 20 years to many companies and state agencies.

The Federal Court ruling re-affirmed a similar landmark finding in the Nor Nyawai & Others v Borneo Pulp and Plantation case in Bintulu in 2001.

Al Jazeera : The Fight For Power
March 21, 2009, 3:58 am
Filed under: Dams, Indigenous People, Land, Media Reports, Politics, Video Report

From Al-Jazeera English

The Malaysian state of Sarawak plans to build 12 new hydro-electric dams along the state’s waterways, saying the projects will create jobs, provide cheap renewable energy and meet the demands of future industrialisation.

The dams are supposed to push the total generating capacity in the state to 7,000MW by 2020, an increase of more than 600 per cent from the current capacity.

There are plans to expand the aluminium-smelting industry in the state which will need the planned output.

But critics question the sustainability of the project.

They are concerned that the dams will destroy the environment and heritage sites, displace tens of thousands of local indigenous people and are unnecessary for a region that already has more electricity than it needs.

Opponents also say that the projects are magnets for corruption, enriching the private coffers of those in power.

This week on 101 East we talk to those in favour and against Sarawak’s proposed new dams.

This episode of 101 East airs from Thursday, March 19, 2009 at the following times GMT:
Thursday: 1230, 1930; Friday: 0300, 0630; Saturday: 1400; Sunday: 0530; Monday: 0130; Tuesday: 1030; Wednesday: 0730, 1430.

2/3 of Bintulu 3 sent To Simpang Renggam under EO
March 19, 2009, 8:40 am
Filed under: Indigenous People, Land, Media Reports, Oil Palm

Two thirds of the Bintulu 3 arrested under the Emergency Ordinance has been sent to Simpang Renggam. This means that they will be further detained for 2 more years without trial.

We here at ‘What Rainforest’ would like to express our protest against all forms of detentions without trial which includes the Internal Security Act (ISA) and the Emergency Ordinance (EO). If a person is suspected of a crime, he/she should be brought before a court of law and be formally charged. Justice must be carried out and seen to be carried out at all times.

Below is an article from the Star.

Woman released after two-month detention under EO
by Stephen Then,
The Star Online, 19 March 2009

MIRI: A woman arrested with her husband and brother-in-law under the Emergency Ordinance for alleged armed robbery in Bintulu, northern Sarawak, has been freed after 60 days in detention.

Melati Bekeni, 28, walked free after the Sarawak police released her on Sunday. She will be reunited with her 18-month-old daughter Victoria, whom she was breastfeeding at the time of her arrest, and three-year-old son Vincent.

However, her husband Marai Senggok, also 28, and his brother Bunya, 21, were ordered to be detained at the Simpang Renggam detention centre in Johor.

Bunya, Marai and Melati were arrested in January and detained under the Ordinance after Bintulu police accused them of being involved in a series of robberies.

However, family members claimed the three were arrested because of their dispute with a development consortium over a plot of land the natives claim were an ancestral heritage.

The father of the brothers, tuai rumah (longhouse chief) Sengok Sabang, confirmed yesterday that Melati had been freed.

“She is living with relatives near Miri. My two sons have been flown to Johor. The police did not tell me why they were taken out of Sarawak,” he told The Star.

Sengok appealed to police and the Home Ministry to release his sons, saying they were breadwinners for the family.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia Sarawak field officer Jok Jau Evong said yesterday their lawyers in Kuala Lumpur had learnt that Bunya and Marai had been detained for two years under the Emergency Ordinance.

Suhakam’s commissioner for Sarawak Dr Mohd Hirman Ritom said the commission had tried its best but still failed to get the two released.