Respect the rights of Sarawak's indigenous communities, says NGO

Date of publication: 
27 August 2011

Exclude NCR land from provisional lease

KUALA LUMPUR: Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud and company have come under attack for issuing provisional leases (PL) to oil palm companies to continue destroying forests in the Baram region.

Environmental group, Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM), wants the state government to rescind the PLs and exclude all native community territories from these plantation licenses.

Said SAM president SM Mohamad Idris: “Taking into consideration all the complaints and hardship suffered by affected communities, as well as their legal rights to their land, we urge the Sarawak government to ensure that all indigenous community village territories are excluded from all plantation licences.

“We urge the government to ensure that any development on such land should only proceed with the free, prior consent of the native communities,” he added.

Mohamad Idris also reiterated previous calls for the Sarawak government to respect the rights of the natives.

“The state government must improve on transparency in land and forestry governance.

“We urge the Sarawak state government to investigate the complaints that have been lodged by the communities and to respect the rights of its indigenous communities.

“We also call upon the Sarawak Land and Survey Department to implement the free, prior and informed consent process in all their decision-making,” he said.

Mohamad Idris was commenting on the rapid pace of forest clearing and plantation activities in Tanjung Upar in Baram which had affected landowners.

The clearings were being carried out without the consent of the landowners.

Insidious encroachment

According to SAM, the company involved had obtained a PL over Lot No 1210 of the Puyut Land District several years ago but it has yet to issue official notice to the native community regarding their intention to plant oil palm.

They said the PL was issued by the Sarawak government for about 21,913 hectares of land affecting three communities including Rumah Chabop and Melayu Narum.

“These PLs will soon consume the native land which has been timelessly worked by the people to sustain their livelihood and to ensure their daily sustenance.

“This has been their way of living since the Rajah Brooke days and beyond,” he said, adding that the Iban community of Rumah Vincent in Tanjung Upar is reportedly being pressured to stay away from their own farmlands.

These farmlands, he noted, had been encroached into by an oil palm company since July.

The community, made up of 292 persons, has lost most of their fruit trees and cash crops on their farmland despite pleading the company to stay away from them.

“Despite having substantial proof of native customary rights on the land, development companies have already taken over the communities’ communal forests and farmlands.

“The community fears that the perpetuity of this project will eventually wipe out their last remaining farmlands and their ancestral graves that are situated near Loagan Tujuh.

“Already another company has destroyed their communal forest and covered the land with straight rows of oil palm with no compensation being paid to them,” he said.

Native blockade

On Aug 7, the angry Tanjung Upar community staged a protest across the plantation road (main photo).

They held up banners that read `Tanah adalah jiwa dan sumber kepenghidupan kami. Harta musnah, pampasan tiada’ (Land is our life and source of livelihood. Our property’s destroyed without compensation).

Idris said the merciless intensity of the oil palm development had compelled the natives to do so.

He said the company’s ‘unfettered actions’ had resulted in the community being cut-off from their food resources.

“They have lost their source of livelihood… The lakes are now heavily silted and contaminated with chemical spray run-off from the plantations,” he said.