Borneo Natives Win Suit Against Malaysian Oil Palm Company


Date of publication: 
2 April 2010

More than twelve years after first going to court, the Kayan native community of Long Teran Kanan on the Tinjar river in the Malaysian part of Borneo have won an important legal battle against the Sarawak state government and IOI Pelita, a subsidiary of the controversial Malaysian oil palm producer IOI.

In a judgement delivered earlier this week, the Miri High Court declared the land leases used by IOI “null and void” as they had been issued by the Sarawak state government in an illegal and unconstitutional way. According to the Borneo Resources Institute Malaysia (BRIMAS), the court granted Long Teran Kanan headman Lah Anyie and his community compensation for the damage done by IOI to their land. The case had been handled by Miri-based lawyer Harrison Ngau.

Last December, a BBC News investigation uncovered that vast tracts of former rainforest were being bulldozed in the disputed IOI operations area and had found “a scene of absolute devastation: a vast scar on the landscape.” Local landowners had complained that their paddy fields and fruit trees had been destroyed by the company.

That same month, in a challenge to the state government, seventeen indigenous Penan communities proclaimed a new tropical forest reserve on their native lands, which had been concessioned for logging by the Malaysian timber giant, Samling (3938.HK).

According to the Swiss Bruno Manser Fund, which has been working with the indigenous communities, the court decision also discredits the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

IOI said the Roundtable found in a probe that it “had acted responsibly for the management of land in Sarawak.” IOI, a palm oil producer serving markets in 65 countries, is a leading RSPO member. Last month, a Friends of the Earths report presented evidence that IOI was responsible for large-scale illegal and unsustainable activities in the Indonesian part of Borneo.

The Bruno Manser Fund said it expects IOI to stop its jungle clearance activities and move out of the disputed lands in the Tinjar region with immediate effect.