Activists condemn removal of Baram-dam blockade

Human rights organisations are condemning authorities for dismantling a barricade mounted by anti-dam activists near Long Kesseh in Sarawak.

Published: 23 October 2014

Calling it an act of intimidation, they are appealing to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to denounce the action.

The non-governmental organisations said they have appealed to Victoria Tauli-Corpuz to raise their concerns with Putrajaya over the actions taken to forcefully dismantle the barricade.

Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia, Suaram, and International Rivers said in a statement that the removal of the barricade by officers from the forest department and police, was an attempt to intimidate the indigenous peoples who are against the proposal to build the 1,200 megawatt Baram hydroelectric dam.

The logging road on which the barricade was mounted is claimed by a logging company with concession in the area, while native landowners said the road runs on their land.

The road provided the only access to the proposed dam site. The government’s attempt to build a tarred road from Long Lama is also currently being held up by anti-dam activists who have mounted a barricade near the area.

The NGOs said the barricade was set up a year ago to “assert landowners’ native customary rights (NCR) to land allocated against their will for the Baram dam”.

Opposition against the dam is strong among certain sections of the indigenous people living in the areas, notably the Kayans, Kenyahs, Orang Ulu, Ibans.

It is believed that the dam when completed could inundate 26 villages, including Long Kesseh, flooding 400 sq km of land and displacing between 6,000 and 20,000 people.

The dam is one of 12 the Sarawak government plans to build as part of its move to generate cheap, renewable energy and shift its oil and timber-based economy to an industrial-based one by 2030.

The native landowners affected by the Baram dam, including those in Long Kesseh, had never given consent for timber clearance or other preparatory project works to proceed on customary lands, said Sze Ning, a spokesperson for Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia.

Yet, she said, agents working with the logging concession company, are claiming the land is part of a concession they were granted.

“Although the circumstances related to the issuing of their logging permit remain ambiguous, the company has become associated with Sarawak Energy Berhad’s efforts to clear timber around the Baram River and help pave the way for the construction of the proposed hydroelectric project,” she said.

Serene Lim of Suaram said the barricade was an act by the anti-dam protestors to defend their customary property rights.

“They have not granted free, prior and informed consent for their land to be taken by the government or any private firm.

“That is why the people of Long Kesseh continue to affirm their rights to the area, and why they decided to rebuild the barricade.”

Lim said it was therefore unacceptable for the authorities to back the logging company’s alleged incursion onto native customary lands, “while completely disregarding clear legal provisions and precedents protecting the rights of original landholders”.

It was due to this complicity of government authorities along with agents hired by logging and energy companies in violating fundamental human rights,  that Suaram and the other NGOs have decided to bring the case to the attention of the UN Special Rapporteur, she added.

Meanwhile, National Indigenous Peoples’ Network president Thomas Jalong said the confrontation at Long Kesseh was aimed at opening up grounds for the Baram dam to proceed.

“Sarawak Energy Bhd needs access to the area that is currently being defended by the villagers if they are to proceed with the proposed Baram dam.”

Jalong, however, said the confrontation and removal of the barricade had failed to intimidate the villagers.

The Bruno Manser Fund reported that a team of 60 policemen and forest department officers as well as representatives of the logging company were sent to dismantle the blockade on Tuesday.

But, as soon as the blockade was removed, the activists immediately set up a new one elsewhere along the road.

The police have given them three days to remove the blockade. – October 23, 2014.