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.