Malaysia: Sarawak indigenous communities launch campaign against land grabbing

Sarawak indigenous leaders have launched an online signature campaign against land grabbing by private and government corporations, reports Pan AP.

Over a hundred leaders of various Sarawak indigenous groups gathered at a public forum in Kuching on 15 November to launch an online signature campaign against land grabbing by private and government corporations in their communties.

The forum was jointly organised by the local group Sarawak Dayak Iban Organization (Sadia), the Penang-based Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (Pan AP), and the Jakarta-based Aidenvironment. Sadia president Mr Siti Munan led the launching of the online petition addressed to Prime Minister Najib Razak, Human Rights Commission of Malaysia chairman Hasmy Agam, and Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud.

“Sarawak’s indigenous peoples are facing a number of land disputes with palm oil plantations and logging companies, with Sadia documenting at least 400 cases of violation of Native Customary Rights or NCR,” Munan said.

In the petition, Sadia and the forum’s participants outlined 10 demands to the federal government and the Sarawak state government, including among others, respect for human rights and the NCR of indigenous peoples (IPs), which are guaranteed under national and state laws as well as international agreements. (The online petition can be accessed here.)

Entitled “Land, Justice and Human Rights: A forum on the situation of the indigenous peoples in Sarawak”, the gathering was also attended by the Ambassador and Head of the European Union (EU) Delegation to Malaysia, Luc Vandebon. In his speech, Vandebon highlighted the EU’s commitment to human rights, including the rights of indigenous peoples in Sarawak. “Hopefully, activities like this (will) become regular. There is a need for dialogue and consultation,” said Vandebon.

Pan AP executive director Sarojeni Rengam said that the forum aimed to provide a venue for information sharing on violations of the rights of indigenous peoples and the actions being taken by various communities to defend their rights as well as for policy dialogue with relevant Sarawak government agencies in-charge of protecting and respecting the rights of indigenous peoples.

“The role of the communities themselves is crucial in defending the rights and welfare of the indigenous peoples in Sarawak. As the actual victims and direct stakeholders, they must take the lead in the campaign to oppose the corporate takeover of their land and other resources, and in promoting their native customary rights and civil and political rights. For the campaign to be sustainable, it is necessary for the IP communities to own, plan and lead it themselves,” Rengam emphasised.

Opposition politicians and members of Sarawak’s legislative body See Chee How and Chong Chiang Jen were also present. They shared insights into what they could do as officials to address the concerns of indigenous communities in the state although both highlighted the need for the IPs themselves to take action. See and Chong both noted that while the courts have in several instances decided in favour of the IPs, these decisions are not implemented, thus the need for people to come together and assert their rights.

The organisers and participants pointed out that under the Constitution of Malaysia and the NCR in Sarawak, the rights of IPs are supposedly protected. They also noted that Malaysia is a signatory to the United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UndripP). “Sadly, the survival of indigenous communities in the rainforests is being threatened and their human rights violated by large-scale palm oil production and logging. There is a need to engage Malaysian authorities on their national and international commitments on upholding IP rights,” the petition read.

Through the online petition and other activities, Sadia, Pan AP and Aidenvironment vowed to gather the broadest and largest support for the campaign against land grabbing in Sarawak and for the indigenous communities to take back their lands.