“Where did the money go?” asks symbolic Rainforest Tribunal

(BASEL, SWITZERLAND) On Tuesday, Malaysian activists gathered in Basel, Switzerland, for a Rainforest Tribunal investigating deforestation in Borneo’s remote interior. Members of the Penan, Kelabit, Kenyah, Tering, and Kayan Indigenous communities of Sarawak, as well as international scholars, served as witnesses testifying on rainforest destruction and loss of Indigenous livelihoods in Malaysian Borneo.

Penan activists initiated the Tribunal by crossing the Rhine River by ferry to deliver a letter with investigative demands to the President of the Tribunal, Swiss economist Kaspar Müller. The letter, signed by 90 Indigenous leaders in the Baram, Tutoh, and Limbang areas of Sarawak, asked the Tribunal, “How much money has been made from the destruction of our forests? Where did the money go?”

The Tribunal featured testimony from a former timber company worker, who shared first-hand experience of engaging in bribery practices that appear to be common between logging companies and Forestry Department officials. Penan leader Komeok Joe shared, “We live in fear every day of losing our forest, when the trees get cut and our people get arrested for protecting our land.”

Lawyer and anti-corruption expert Cynthia Gabriel delivered the Jury’s remarks, “The local struggles and victimization of Sarawak’s Indigenous peoples must be considered a grand-scale transnational crime.” 

Celine Lim, managing director of Sarawak-based Indigenous NGO SAVE Rivers, stated, “We Indigenous communities want to have our seat at the table when decisions are made regarding our land.”

The Rainforest Tribunal was hosted by Swiss NGO Bruno Manser Fonds (BMF) ahead of their appearance tomorrow in the Basel Civil Court, where the Sarawak Governor’s daughter Jamilah Taib Murray has sued them for defamation. 

Read the jury’s statement here.

Watch the Rainforest Tribunal recording here.