Dec 16, 2010
Sahabat Alam Malaysia / Friends of the Earth Malaysia have expressed their concerns to the authorities regarding the intimidation and persecution of indigenous leaders in Sarawak. In the latest incident a community activist from the Indigenous Iban tribe was arrested and charged with attempted murder.
Political tensions between regional and corporate interests in Sarawak appear to be escalating, as evidenced by the recent arrest of a community activist from the indigenous Iban tribe. Mr Liam Rengga, a local farmer, was charged with attempted murder on November 23, 2010.
According to the police report, Rengga testified that, while posting no-entry signs on his land to discourage poachers, he encountered two men whom he believed to be palm oil plantation agents. Rengga claims to have briefly discussed the communal hunting ban with these individuals before noticing a shotgun in their vehicle and being told to refrain from causing any sort of disturbance. He was arrested on November 17 at his farm hut. Further information on the evidence behind the charge of attempted murder is not available.
Liam Rengga is a well-known proponent of indigenous land rights and has been protesting over the steady encroachment of palm oil facilities on native customary rights (NCR) lands. He is involved in pending litigation against an unnamed palm oil company, and was a leading figure in the establishment of the Sungai Senga Residents' Association (SSRA), organized to better promote locals' collective interests regarding land management.
Since the SSRA was formally registered in July 2010, regular campaign work has been carried out, including an official letter to government and company authorities detailing the environmental and public health repercussions of plantation water pollution.
SSRA has also issued a warning letter urging plantation company workers to refrain from using the private road that runs through his village's NCR territory, and letters on SSRA’s objectives and functions were sent to the plantation company and several government departments.
an obstacle to expansion
Recently the Malaysian government announced their plans to greatly expand palm oil cultivation; they intend to double the total plantation area in Sarawak by 2020.
Given Mr. Rengga's role as activist and obstacle to government plans for plantation expansion, speculation regarding the suspicious nature of his arrest has proven impossible to suppress. Parallels have been drawn with similar past occurrences, such as the 2003 year-long detention of two Penan villagers or the arrest in October of seven community leaders and the secretary-general of a local NGO.
Both cases were eventually dismissed for lack of evidence. These associations lend circumstantial credibility to allegations of judicial abuse and corporate favoritism.
Rengga has categorically denied any criminal behavior in efforts to defend traditional territories. Although he finds the charge of attempted murder extremely outrageous, he vows not to let his current predicament affect the community land rights struggle:
"I will continue championing our rights. If anything, I am more spirited now than I was before and will fight till the end."
He added that he was prepared for an altercation due to mounting hostility between villagers and company workers, resulting from dissatisfaction over the plantation license and its encroachment upon communal land.
Friends of the Earth Malaysia / Sahabat Alam Malaysia strongly urges that the charge of attempted murder against Mr.Rengga, who is the sole breadwinner of his family, be summarily dropped if the state is unable to provide concrete and incontrovertible evidence. They request that the Sarawak State Government affirm the native customary rights of the Rumah Kilat community and positively engage them by providing meaningful responses to their grievances.
Finally they strongly urge the authorities to cease intimidation and persecution of all native leaders who are fighting for their lawful rights.
Nov 02, 2010
More than 100 representatives of environmental NGOs and local communities met in Penang, Malaysia recently to denounce the role of governments and corporations in biodiversity loss, deforestation and the failure of governments to meet the targets set to halt biodiversity loss under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
The representatives were attending Friends of the Earth International’s pre-conference of a Peoples Gathering on Forests, Biodiversity, Community Rights and Indigenous Peoples that took place on October 14-17, 2010.
The event was organised by Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific and Hosted by Sahabat Alam Malaysia – Friends of the Earth Malaysia at Jerejak Rainforest Resort, Penang, Malaysia.
Those in attendance called for an immediate halt to the destructive projects being promoted by governments and corporations that enter communities under the guise of development but instead bring environmental destruction and serious human rights violations.
"Despite being the UN’s International Year of Biodiversity no meaningful progress has been made at the international level to ensure a halt or even a slow-down biodiversity loss and environmental degradation," said Isaac Rojas, international forests and biodiversity coordinator for Friends of the Earth International (FOEI), speaking at the Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific conference on Forest, Biodiversity, Community Rights and Indigenous Peoples.
Sep 14, 2010
On September 2, 2010, around 150 Penan villagers from a number of communities in Sarawak, Malaysia, gathered to commemorate the anniversary of the simultaneous blockades they held the previous year.
The gathering was held not only to commemorate the anniversary of the protests but also to honour the three-decade struggles of the Penan communities in Sarawak against the continued violations of their Native Customary Rights (NCR). It was held as a reminder to their people to appreciate their rights, livelihoods, traditions and culture that are closely tied to the forests, which have now been largely destroyed by logging companies.
During the original protests, the state response included the appearance a state assembly member at the blockade site, who urged those involved to dismantle the barricades and sign a particular memorandum of understanding (MOU) with him as a co-signatory.
The content of the MOU included the following pledges on the part of the Sarawak State Government:
- To make an effort at bringing Penan community leaders to meet with higher authorities in order to discuss on matters concerning their land and traditional territories;
- To make an effort at bringing the Penan communities’ application for the construction of kindergartens and primary schools at each Penan longhouse (to the appropriate authorities).
- To increase the number of community leaders for the Penan community.
- To make an effort at introducing agricultural activities that are suitable for the Penan communities.
- To make an effort at obtaining financial allocations for the housing and healthcare needs of Penan communities
The demands above were not the original demands that the Penan communities had made during the blockades. The blockades last year were erected firstly, to demand that the Sarawak State Government must recognise that the Penan have the right to make their own decisions in relation to their land, and secondly, to ask that logging activities and the encroachments into Penan land be immediately halted in order to prevent starvation.
The original protest demanded that both the government and logging companies recognise the rights of the Penan to their land. However, the communities were pressured by state to change their demands to those above.
A year later, the Penan have yet to hear how even these very simple demands will be fulfilled by the state. The offers of schools, childcare and clinics have come to nothing.
As a result the Penan communities have declared that If the state continues to ignore its obligations to them they will not hesitate to set up blockades for a longer period of time.
In a statement outlining their position a Penan spokesman said:
"Many of us have gone to prison for defending our rights to this land. Thus, we will continue defending our rights for the rest of our lives."
The Penan are also concerned about the reports they have been reading in the papers about themselves.
For instance, in December 2009, the state government announced a plan to move the Penan communities to a resettlement site similar to that of the Sungai Asap resettlement scheme for the Bakun-affected communities. This was not done in consultation with the Penan.
"Our people will not move to any other location just because the government says so. Our home lies within our ancestral land. The government cannot continue to threaten us in this way and move us around at will" continues the statement.
"The government just simply cannot continue to govern in this way – making ‘announcements’ without any sense of obligation to first consult our communities and ‘pledging’ without taking any follow-up steps and fulfilling the promises. We reiterate that failure to meet our demands will certainly result in long-term blockades in the state" it concludes.
further readingFind out more about logging in Sarawak and the work that Friends of the Earth Malaysia are doing to address it.
Jul 07, 2010
Friends of the Earth Europe welcomed the majority vote in the European Parliament on July 7 in favour of the European directive to ban illegal timber from the European market.
Friends of the Earth Europe has been campaigning for over ten years for this law, to save the world's forests and to make sure forest dependent people get a fair deal. Friends of the Earth Europe will continue to follow the implementation process, to ensure countries and companies turn it into an effective law.
The directive is a compromise deal between representatives of the European Parliament and Commission. It contains strong and weak points, but is an important first step towards a level playing field in the international timber sector.
Geert Ritsema, Friends of the Earth Europe, said: “This law, if properly enforced, will have a huge positive impact on the world’s forests and their inhabitants. It will also mean that developing countries will finally start benefiting from the revenues that, until now, have disappeared due to illegal trade.”
The new law obligates operators to be transparent about the origin of their wood. Also, they have to assess the possibility of illegality and try to reduce the risk of selling illegal wood. All operators have to give information on where their timber is bought and sold. These measures will provide more transparency in the chain of trade and will reduce the risk of illegal timber appearing on the market.
Weak penalty system
On a national level, penalties and sanctions will still need to be defined. Unfortunately, no minimum penalties have been set on European level. This makes it possible for companies to move to countries with low penalties, and continue trading illegal timber. The exception of printed products in the new law is also a missed opportunity, with 3.2 billion euro's spent on a yearly basis importing these products. Friends of the Earth Europe, together with other Environmental organisations will keep a close eye on the process of implementation of the law in the near future.
Mar 11, 2010
Friends of the Earth Australia and WAHLI (Friends of the Earth Indonesia) have come out strongly in opposition to the new Australian-Indonesian Forest Carbon Partnership announced to coincide with the Indonesian President’s visit to Canberra.
The REDD (Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and Degradation) trial project will be located in the Jambi province and receive A$30 million in funding from the International Forest Carbon Initiative (IFCI), which is jointly managed by the Department of Climate Change and AusAID.
"It is vital to globally reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, however, the international REDD framework fails to address the real drivers of deforestation nor will it reduce global carbon emissions" said James Goodman from Friends of the Earth Australia.
"REDD projects will instead provide a cheap source of ‘offsets’ to count towards Australia’s greenhouse gas reduction commitments. Treasury modelling shows that the government plans to achieve its 5% (30.75 MtCO2) emission reduction target by purchasing 46MtCO2 of offsets for overseas, that is purchasing more tonnes of carbon offsets that we reduce emissions by! Without offsets the modelling shows that our emissions would actually increase by over 5%. Such ‘offsets’ do not reduce global carbon emissions, but provide a dangerous smokescreen behind which the Australia government can hide its lack of read action on climate change and continued fossil fuel dependence" he continued.
WALHI and FOE Australia are extremely concerned that REDD projects will undermine the rights of Indigenous and forest-dependant peoples in the area.
In September 2009 the United Nations Committee on Racial Discrimination wrote Indonesia to express concerns that Indonesia REDD regulations do not respect the rights of Indigenous peoples. Documents from the Australian-Indonesian Kalimantan REDD project fail to guarantee the rights of Indigenous people in the area.
"This raises human rights concerns and bad climate policy given that enhancing local control and management of forested areas by Indigenous and local communities is the best way to reduce deforestation" said James Goodman.
There are additional concerns about the environmental utility of this scheme in light of a recent Indonesian government announcement that they are seeking to reclassify palm oil plantations as forests, meaning that the Indonesian government could still be paid for forest conservation in cases where old growth forest is clear-felled for palm oil plantations.
"Australia REDD offset model violates Australia's international obligations and should be considered as a fraud: the scheme aims to reduce deforestation is not, in fact aims to create a source of cheap credit for the increase in emissions in Australia." said Arif Munandar, Regional Executive Director of WALHI Jambi.