Massive logging concession green-lighted in Sarawak during COVID crisis despite opposition
Miri, Sarawak—Indigenous communities in the Baram region of Malaysian Borneo are calling for the 148,000 hectare Gerenai timber license to be cancelled after it was revealed that the certification authority SIRIM and the timber company Samling pushed through the permit during the COVID crisis, knowing that objecting communities had not been consulted.
According to the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS) guidelines, ‘Indigenous peoples shall control forest management on their lands and territories unless they delegate control with free, prior and informed consent to other parties.’ According to the MTCS procedure, Samling is required to consult all communities affected by prospective logging. In reality, Samling conducted inadequate consultations with most communities in the Gerenai concession and failed to consult two objecting communities entirely.
Far from consenting to the concession, the Kenyah Jamok village of Long Tungan and the Penan village Ba Jawi have both actively opposed its application to their lands.
Long Tungan is particularly concerned about threats to its communal reserve forest, the Ba’i Keremun Jamok. According to Jamok community leader John Jau Sigau, “No one is allowed to cut any tree or hunt in the Ba’i Keremun Jamok unless agreed to by the whole Jamok community. This preserves the plants and animals for future generations.”
Long Tungan has repeatedly expressed a desire to both SIRIM and Samling that it wants to protect its forests. “We are very worried about Samling’s logging activities in our area,” Jamok leaders wrote in a February 2020 letter to Samling’s Chief Forester. “In 2018, Samling illegally entered our communal forest for logging. At that time we discussed with representatives of Samling that we want to protect the remaining forests in our area. We are ready to discuss the matter with representatives of Samling”
The Samling official dismissed the Jamok letter in early March, replying via email that “matters concerning allocation of forest areas, proposed land use, etc, are government issues over which Samling has no jurisdiction”. This dismissal was in contravention of the MTCS guidelines and demonstrates the unwillingness of the company to take into consideration indigenous concerns.
“What is the point in going through the proper administrative channels to simply have your complaints ignored?” says John Jau Sigau. “We are working hard on a community conservation and ecotourism initiative to create long term sustainable jobs in our forests, not to chop it all down for short term gain.”
In a letter addressed to the same senior Samling official, Penan leaders from Ba Jawi also wrote, “We have neither been informed about the ongoing certification process nor consulted. We are currently working to establish the upper Baram Forest Area. We do not agree with logging activities in our forest and request Samling to stop logging on our land.”
“The Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme is supposed to protect indigenous rights,” explains Peter Kallang, Chairman of local advocacy group SAVE Rivers. “But the story of Gerenai is just one of the many examples that demonstrate how the system is toothless in practice. Even when Samling does consult communities the process is totally inadequate. If the MTCC does not follow its own guidelines it is pointless at best and a serious human rights violation at worst.”
The Borneo Project stands with the Gerenai Community Rights Action Committee in calling on Samling to release the Environmental Impact and Social Impact Assessments for the Gerenai concession to affected communities as a matter of urgency. The Borneo Project stands with Baram communities in calling for SIRIM and the Malaysian Timber Certification Council to withdraw their certification until indigenous rights and concerns are heard, understood and respected.
The Borneo Project works alongside indigenous communities to protect the land, livelihoods and cultures of Malaysian Borneo. To find out more about our work head to borneoproject.org. Press enquiries can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.