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

Water supply is one of the many problems in Sungai Asap


Dry taps or murky domestic water is not the only outstanding issue suffered by those who were displaced to make way for the controversial Bakun Dam. Although there has been a chorus of complaints about the dirty water supply recently, the authority should also seriously and urgently draft an overall action plan to solve the many problems existing in the resettlement area.

They owe it to the villagers to fulfil promises which were made to them before and after they were moved to Sungai Asap.

After 19 years since they have been resettled, there are still many more outstanding and serious issues which impact the people’s social and economic well-being. Some of these problems concern their farmland, housing, unpaid compensation, roads, telecommunication and job opportunities.

One of the most commonly shared woes is regarding their lands, both farmland and the land allocated for their longhouses, which is insufficient to meet their requirements. For the farmland, most of the land owners are not able to fully utilise theirs because the sites are not accessible by roads. The only means to reach that land is on foot through the forest.

So transporting produces from the land or bringing equipment for farming could only be done by manually carrying them and walking for hours.

When asked, Alexander Lihan from Uma Nyaving Sungai Asap said, “After our many complaints, the authority did build a main road from the trunk road to the farm site. However, it was not tarmac but surfaced with a thin layer of pebbles. Besides, there were no feeder roads from there to the land plots located away on either side from that main road.” said Alexander,

“But now after just a couple of years, even that so called main road is washed away and it is overgrown with bushes and tall grass. Now, we are back to square one.” When asked, Alexander said, “In our old village the river was our means of transport and with their own boats the folks were able to reach their farms or anywhere they want to go. So here, most of us are not able to farm like we did in our old villages. ”

Tuah Miku also of Uma Nyaving in Sungai Asap said, “If the authorities fulfil their promises which they made before we moved and at campaign times for the various state or general elections, it will go a long way in solving our problems.” Showing the manifesto for the candidate who won the Murum state sit in the 2016 state election; he continued, “Until today there are so many who have not received the full compensations for their former home and land.”

One family from the Penan Talun village in the Sungai Asap resettlement area (who want to remain anonymous) complain about bad workmanship, cheap, soft woods and inferior quality materials used to build the houses allocated to those resettled. To prove their point, they show their toilet, where the toilet bowl and the sewer pipes have dropped off and the septic tank for the toilet was overflowing. However, the toilet is still being used.

As the houses was built on stilts, the faeces from the toilet just dropped on the bare ground under the building. The situation caused a disgusting stink in their whole house.

Peter Kallang, the chairperson of Save Rivers commented, “In order to be called sustainable, developments must be environmentally and socially friendly. The well-being of the people or the human rights issues must be prioritised when planning for any development. Bakun, Murum and Batang Ai are not good examples.