Here is our wrap up of 2017 Borneo Project news.
LAND RIGHTS UNDER THREAT
Native Customary Rights protections challenged in court
In October, the Federal Court of Malaysia overturned a decision of the High Court and the Court of Appeal and stripped land rights protections from indigenous communities in Sarawak. This is the latest in a decades long legal tennis match, and signals game-point for the oil palm and timber companies who have been eagerly awaiting this outcome.
The ruling, in practice, means that most indigenous communities in Sarawak will not win their court challenges against the state for recognition of their Native Customary Rights title. There has since been an upswing in calls for the Sarawak Land Code to be amended, and protests calling for the state government to make these changes in a timely manner. Expect to see more campaigns and rallies against this ruling in 2018.
CHANGING OF THE GUARD
Updates on Sarawak’s leadership
After the unexpected death of Adenan Satem in January, The Borneo Project, along with our grassroots partners, cautiously watched on as Abang Johari took Adenan’s place as the new Chief Minister of Sarawak. The late CM’s governance was a positive change from decades of rampant abuse of power. There were justified fears that, while America stumbled into the Trump era, Sarawak would take a similar leap backwards.
The first cause for alarm came in July when CM Johari announced approval for a new mega dam in Trusan. Our local partners were quick to point out that the dam is very unlikely to go ahead, with the new proposal being ill-conceived and unlikely to gain support. We’re keeping tabs on all of the proposals for future dams and setting up a meeting with Johari and international energy experts in early January.
SPROUTING NEW PLANS
The Baram Eco Community Forest is under way
For the first time, grassroots activists in Sarawak are working in tandem with the Sarawak Forest Department. This new alliance between us, our local partners and the government was strengthened throughout 2017, with multiple field trips laying the groundwork for the proposed Baram Eco Community Forest.
The area is located in the upper reach of the Baram River in northern Sarawak. It covers 280,000 square hectares of forest and agricultural land that is home to over 30 indigenous Penan, Kenyah, Kelabit, and Saban villages. The vision is spearheaded by local communities who want to stop logging in their ancestral lands and develop alternative income sources. The area includes some of the last remaining untouched forest in Sarawak, and will create a crucial biodiversity corridor.
We supported this project throughout 2017 by conducting a cross visit to Indonesia to look at similar initiatives there, organizing community consultations, meeting with community leaders and engaging the help of a world-class forests researcher to help steer the project. Getting the Baram Eco Community Forest off the ground is a mammoth task with a long road ahead, but we believe it is achievable and would be a monumental victory for community and conservation.
TOKYO 2020 OLYMPICS
Calling on Japan to end the use of illegal timber
In April, an investigation by several international NGOs revealed that timber from Shin Yang, a Malaysian logging giant accused of deforestation and human rights violations, is being used to construct the wooden stadium that will be the centrepiece of Tokyo’s Olympic Games.
In May, indigenous groups in Miri and Kuala Lumpur held protests in front of the Japanese embassy, while we handed over 140,000 petition signatures to the Japanese Embassy in Switzerland with Bruno Manser Fund and indigenous Sarawakian leaders. Pressure has been building throughout the year, with significant media coverage and sustained advocacy urging the Tokyo Organising Committee to dump Shin Yang.