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.