Villagers’ water source destroyed by company, Police brutally dismantled peaceful blockade

30th Oct. 2018

Mukah – Iban people from six villages in the Ulu Kelawit Tatau gathered in front of the Mukah police station for two days to peacefully protest the arrest of 11 community members who have been detained since October 25th. The arrests happened in response to a peaceful blockade set up by the communities in opposition to rock quarry and oil palm company that has polluted and destroyed their water source and taken their land without proper compensation. The Mukah police forcefully arrested 10 Iban men and 1 Iban women during a raid in which they brutally burned their blockade, hit the women, burned their cultural artefacts, confiscated and burned their handphones, stole their property, and looted and destroyed the rest of their camp.

Three companies, all subsidiaries of Ta Ann, have been working in the area of the Ulu Kelawit-Tatau since 2012. The oil palm company, Cipta Sendirian Berhad, originally compensated the villagers for their land, but has discontinued payments. After the oil palm company came in, Stone Head Sendirian Berhad, the sandstone rock quarry company, started operations in the vicinity. An additional subsidiary of Ta Ann began another monoculture tree plantation.

These companies, and particularly the operations of the rock quarry, have destroyed the Sungai Besangin, their river source. At first the water became extremely poisonous and polluted and killed their paddy fields and crops. And then the river completely dried up. Through the loss of their water source, villagers have lost their source of livelihood as they are no longer able to grow crops or fish on the river. They have also lost their source of food and drinking water.

When the villagers began to notice the impacts of the Ta Ann companies on their rivers they wrote letters to their headmen and the companies, asking to have a discussion about how to fix the situation. The companies never responded to the villagers, instead offering compensation only to the headmen, who in turn sided with the company. With the headmen on the side of the company, and the lack of response from the company, the villagers had no other choice but to peacefully protest through a blockade that they began in early October, 2018.

One man was arrest on October 20th, and was released on October 24th. On October 25th, the police brutally burned and tore down the blockade, arresting an additional 11 people. Villagers arrived at the Mukah police station on October 29th to hold ceremony and prayer, including Iban rituals of miring and taboh. Police said that the people they are holding would be released on October 30th, but they continue to come up with reasons to delay their release.

Mr. Nasar Anak Nawing from Km 16 Jalan Tatau, who was the first one arrested, commented: “What is the role of the police? Is it to protect the interests of the big companies, or is it to see there is justice for all? We were not looting, we were not violent, but we were there to protect our land and livelihood and to protect our rivers from being destroyed.”

Describing the scene, Ms. Imuk Anak Imang from Rumah Tandang said: “The police came without any warning and without telling us. They collected our handphones and they were wearing masks. One of them shouted ‘arrest them! Arrest them!”

SAVE Rivers is a Civil Society Organisation which advocates for and empowers rural communities to protect and restore lands, rivers and watersheds through research, training and capacity building. For queries please contact: Peter Kallang – +6013 833 1104

Honoring Matthew Ding Ajang

31369171_2143283575687481_182461016871796736_n.pngWe are saddened to share the news that Matthew Ding Ajang, a staff member of our local partner TONIBUNG, passed away this week from a heart attack. Matthew, a technician, was visiting a micro-hydro site in Long Liam with Green Empowerment’s Gabe Wynn and local leaders. His last hours were spent working – as he always did – in service of his people. After the incident, a small group brought Matthew’s body by boat down the Baram River. They passed seven villages where people knew him and cared for him, until they arrived at the village where Matthew taught generations of young people from diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds. The entire village was there to greet the group, all in grief. “As I was sitting by his body on the boat, just before sunset, a flock of four hornbill flew overhead.” said Gabe Wynn, Asia Regional Director of Green Empowerment. The hornbill is an iconic symbol to the people of Sarawak. The beautiful and protected species is believed to have mythical powers. As his family and local community mourn his passing, we mourn with them. This is an enormous loss. Our partners Green Empowerment are raising funds in Matthew’s honor. Please consider making a contribution and read more about Matthew’s legacy and his passing at Local contributions can be made directly to TONIBUNG – TObpinai NIngkokoton koBUruon kampuNG

National Conference on Indigenous Land Rights

Miri – Malaysian indigenous communities gathered in Miri, Sarawak for a one day conference and workshop. The objective of the event is to start collaboration among indigenous communities in the three regions in overcoming the challenges they are facing relating to their native customary lands.

The event was organised by the Civil Society Organisations, SAVE Rives and Jaringan Orang Asal Semalaysia (JOAS). The participants & speakers at the conference comprise of villagers and activists from all over Malaysia, including some well-known land right lawyers among whom are the West Malaysian lawyer Dr. Yogeswaran Subramaniam, Sarawak’s lawyers Mr. M S Sandhu & Mr. Harrison Ngau.  Mr. Jerald Joseph a commissioner from the SUHAKAM (The human right commission of Malaysia) was also invited however he was refused entry to Sarawak by the state government.

The challenges common to the Indigenous communities from the three regions over their lands are encroachments either by logging, industrial farming, mining or mega dams. As a result, thousands of hectares of forest and agricultural land in Sabah, Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia are affected. In some cases the people are forcefully displaced. The indigenous communities, whose livelihood and traditions are closely related or dependent on their lands, rivers and forest, are thus severely affected.

In his keynote address, Dr Yogeswaren Subramaniam said, it cannot be denied that the issue of customary lands has been a longstanding struggle for the indigenous communities. This is because, in his point of view, “This stems from the non-recognition of customary land rights or customary land rights are recognise but the authorities are weak to implement relevant laws to protect these rights.”

There are hundreds of land court cases in Malaysia by the indigenous peoples over the over the encroachment into their lands by developers who are given licenced by the respective state authorities. In practically all the cases, the owners of the land were not consulted. In Sarawak alone, there are more than three hundred cases which are still pending in the court. Mr. Nasri Salbiah from the Sungai Rumanau community representative from Sabah said, “If conflict can be avoided before going to courts, everyone wins.”

Mr Yusri Ahon, President of JOAS and an Orang Asli representative from Pahang shared his experience on the land rights issues faced by the Orang Asli in Peninsular Malaysia. He mentioned that a lot of Orang Asli lands are allotted for logging, plantations and infrastructure development. Even to look for forest resources the Orang Asli communities would have to apply for permit from the government. “The government is not concerned about Orang Asli rights but are concerned about people who can give them benefits which exclude the Orang Asli”, said Yusri.

The declaration named “Malaysian Indigenous Peoples’ Declaration on Customary Right Land” will be submitted to the various State Governments, the Federal Government and political parties in Malaysia.
End of Release

Borneo rainforest communities complete 15-year mapping effort


63 Penan communities celebrate the completion of a series of 23 high-quality maps representing their land, culture and history

(SARAWAK / MALAYSIA) The indigenous Penan people of Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo celebrated the completion of their 15-year long community mapping effort. 23 maps contain data collected by 63 villages at a scale of 1:35‘000, covering a total area of 10’000 square kilometres in the Heart of Borneo. The maps record for the first time the local names of 7000 rivers and creeks, 1800 mountain ridges and peaks as well as a great number of cultural sites.

The maps are an important documentation of Penan culture. They include the location of over 800 poison dart trees (“Tajem” in Penan language) as well as information on wild Sago palm stands, which provide the Penan’s traditional staple food. The topographic information is complemented by oral histories and historical photographs.The maps also reflect the continuous struggle of the Penan protecting their forest lands since the 1980s. The maps are showing both the last remaining primary forest in Sarawak as well as areas ravaged by logging.

A Penan mapping team gathered the data together with the respective communities. The Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) supported their efforts with training and the necessary equipment such as GPS and a mapping drone. BMF was also in charge of the digital procession of the data and the production of the maps in close cooperation with the Penan.

Komeok Joe, the Executive Director of the Penan organization Keruan who coordinated the indigenous mapping process, stressed the importance of the maps for the Penan: “The official government maps neglected the presence of the Penan and our unique relationship with the forest. We took the initiative to contribute our knowledge about the land and are very proud of the result.”

Last week, Komeok Joe and a delegation of Penan representatives handed a set of the maps over to the Deputy Chief Minister of Sarawak, Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas, as well as to the Director of Forest, Sapuan Ahmad, in Sarawak’s capital Kuching.

Over the weekend, representatives of all 63 Penan villages and supporters celebrated the completion of the community mapping in the village of Long Lamai, in the Upper Baram area. Bian Belare, headman of Long Lamai and host of the event, explained the significance of the gathering: “It is the first time in history, that representatives from so many different Penan communities have come together to celebrate our culture and to discuss the future of our people.”

The meeting ended with the adoption of the Long Lamai Declaration, in which the community heads underlined the importance of land tenure to their livelihood and reaffirmed their determination to protect the remaining primary rainforest in the region.

Apart from documenting Penan culture, the maps can serve as a tool for future community-based land use planning and effective nature conservation. Simon Kaelin, the mapping coordinator at BMF, invited other communities to join the mapping effort of indigenous lands: “We hope the Penan maps will inspire other indigenous groups to pursue further mapping efforts and thereby document the cultural richness of Sarawak. Maps are an important tool to unite the indigenous peoples in their struggle for their ancestral land.”

Indigenous leader appeals to the Japanese Prime Minister: stop rainforest destruction for Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Supplier of wood for Tokyo’s new National Olympic Stadium accused of destroying Indigenous livelihoods

SARAWAK / MALAYSIA – On the anniversary of the first Tokyo Olympics, Matu Tugang, headman of the Indigenous Penan community of Long Jaik from Sarawak, Malaysia, delivered an urgent plea to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to stop Japan’s use of wood from a company that is destroying their forests and their livelihoods. Japan has been using tropical timber from Sarawak to construct the New National Stadium for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Evidence gathered at the Stadium construction site by NGOs in April 2017 confirmed the use of plywood supplied by Shin Yang, a company which has been logging in the area of Long Jaik for almost two decades and has previously been implicated in illegal logging, rainforest destruction, and human rights abuses.

The community of Long Jaik has been fighting with blockades to protect their forests against Shin Yang’s logging and conversion to oil palm plantations. The community has an ongoing lawsuit against Shin Yang for violating their customary rights, but this has failed to stop Shin Yang from intruding onto the community’s land. In a last attempt to save their remaining forests, the headman is turning to Shin Yang’s buyers in Japan and asking the Japanese Prime Minister to intervene: “Dear Prime Minister of Japan, please, make sure Japan does not accept wood that Shin Yang has stolen from us. As long as Japan continues to accept this wood, Shin Yang will continue logging our forests and extracting logs daily.”

In the letter, headman Tugang bears witness to Shin Yang’s destructive logging practices and the company’s disregard for the community’s right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent: “Shin Yang has been logging very aggressively in the area of our village. When their tractors extract a log, they just bulldoze everything around… Shin Yang has been logging our ancestral forests without our permission or consent. They have never asked us for our opinion or needs.” The Malaysian Human Rights Commission investigated the community’s plight in 2007 and found Shin Yang’s practices were driving the community further into poverty.

The International Olympic Committee and Tokyo Olympic authorities have been the subject of relentless criticism from an international coalition of civil society organisations who have been critical of Tokyo 2020’s poor timber sourcing standards and lack of transparency in their timber supply chain. Despite repeated demands to disclose the origin of the timber in use for the Olympics and to end the use of Shin Yang wood and other high risk timber, authorities have failed to respond to NGO concerns.



NGOs Demand Olympic Authorities End Rainforest Destruction and Human Rights Abuses Connected to Tokyo 2020 Olympics Construction

TOKYO/LIMA – Today, 47 civil society organizations delivered an open letter to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Tokyo 2020 Olympic authorities, at the start of the IOC Executive Board Meeting in Lima, Peru. The letter reiterated grave and mounting concerns about the legitimacy and accountability of IOC sustainability commitments and the reputation and credibility of the iconic Olympic games. The letter criticizes the Olympics for knowingly exploiting tropical forests and potentially fueling human rights abuses in the construction and implementation of the games. The groups are calling for full transparency and an end to the use of rainforest wood to construct the Tokyo Olympic facilities, including the new National Olympic Stadium.

The signatory organizations, which include a broad cross section of NGOs with expertise in supply chain risks associated with environmental and human rights, are critical of the continued lack of transparency by Tokyo Olympic authorities.

“The Tokyo Olympic authorities are hiding the fact that they are using massive volumes of tropical wood to construct the new National Olympic Stadium. Without full transparency of the timber supply chain, claims to hosting a sustainable Olympics are completely baseless,” said Hana Heineken with Rainforest Action Network.

NGOs claim that the IOC’s failure to address the obvious risk of unsustainability is a clear breach of its own commitment to “include sustainability in all aspects of the Olympic Games.” In particular, they point to a major loophole in the Tokyo 2020 procurement policy that allows wood used for concrete formwork to be exempted from the policy’s environmental, labor and human rights requirements, despite the majority of this type of wood in Japan coming from the rainforests of Malaysia and Indonesia where problems of illegal logging, rainforest destruction, and land rights violations persist.

On December 6 2016, 44 NGOs sent a lettertothe IOC warning them of the high risk that illegal and unsustainable rainforest wood would be used to construct Tokyo’s new Olympic National Stadium and other related facilities. The groups warned that failure to adopt additional safeguards and due diligence measures at the outset of the construction could result in complicity with human rights abuses, illegal logging, and rainforest destruction. The letter offered evidence of high risk timber from Malaysia being used in Tokyo construction projects and argued that the Tokyo 2020 Timber Sourcing Code is ill-equipped to prevent the use of risky timber. Yet, not a single demand put forward in the letter has been met.

Today’s letter states that the new National Olympic Stadium is using significant volumes of rainforest wood as concrete formwork plywood. They point to evidence that tropical plywood supplied by a notorious Malaysian timber company called Shin Yang is being used, despite the company’s history of illegal logging, rainforest destruction, and human rights violations. While Tokyo Olympic authorities have defended their use of Shin Yang wood by claiming it is certified, the letter refutes claims to sustainability with evidence that Shin Yang’s certified wood is linked to human rights violations in Sarawak, Malaysia. The letter also states that the majority of wood being used for the Stadium as concrete formwork is in fact uncertified and very likely to have originated from the rainforests of Malaysia or Indonesia, which supplies most concrete formwork plywood used in Japan.

“Shin Yang’s certification is meaningless in the face of evidence from Indigenous representatives themselves that its logging practices are destroying Indigenous peoples’ traditional lands and livelihoods,” said Peg Putt, CEO of Markets For Change.

Tokyo 2020 authorities are in the midst of developing procurement standards for palm oil and pulp & paper, commodities that are major drivers of tropical deforestation. Given Japan’s significant consumption of rainforest-derived paper and growing consumption of palm oil, NGOs warn Olympic authorities to adopt robust social and environmental safeguards or face further criticism for fueling rainforest destruction, illegal logging and human rights violations.

Another mega dam in Sarawak? No, thank you.

Miri – The decision to proceed with the construction of the Trusan Dam is in direct contradiction with previous policy. 

In an recent article in The Borneo Post, Abang Johari was quoted as saying the Trusan dam in Lawas will be built after the completion of the Baleh Dam in Kapit.

At an interview with Channel News Asia in May 2016, the late Chief Minister Tan Sri Datuk Amar Adenan Satem stated, “The reason (for scrapping the Baram dam) is that I have examined the matter. There’s no need to have another big dam. We can have mini dams and so on, but not big dams especially when we don’t supply (power) to west Malaysia anymore.”

This year, in another article, published by the Borneo Post, Chief Minister Abang Johari announced that he would continue the legacy of the late Chief Minister while looking ahead for new economic model in order to achieve Sarawak’s aspiration to be the leading state in Malaysia by 2030. But building another mega dam does not seem to be consistent with Adenan’s policy.

The modern international trend is to invest in small-scale and green power sources which have minimum impact on the environment and the ecosystem. One example, which could be adopted for rural Sarawak, is micro-hydro power systems. Sarawak has a multitude of small streams which could be considered for the construction of micro dams. Power could be tied-in and distributed via mini-grid system in the rural areas. The late Tan Sri Datuk Amar Adenan Satem was keen to establish reliable power distribution for the rural areas of Sarawak.

Commenting on the announcement for the construction of the Trusan Dam, Mr. Peter Kallang, the Chairman of SAVE Rivers said, “After the completion of the Bakun dam in 2011, the then Minister of Energy, Green Technology and Water Datuk Peter Chin said that after the commissioning of Bakun dam, there was going to be no worry about power shortage in Sarawak for a long time.” He continued, “Now not only do we have the 2400 MW Bakun dam but also the 944MW Murum and soon the 1295MW Baleh Dam. So why do we want to build the Trusan Dam?”

SAVE Rivers is a grassroots network of indigenous communities and civil society organizations in Sarawak, working to protect human rights and stop destructive dams in the state. For Queries please call: Peter Kallang – 013 833 1104