Coercion and Lies Along the Banks of the Baram

By Jettie Word, Borneo Project Director


The Government of Sarawak is currently conducting social and environmental impact assessments, or SEIA, in the area that will be affected by the Baram dam — the next dam planned as part of the Sarawak government’s plan to build 12 massive dams on Sarawak’s rivers. Publicly, the goal of these assessments is to determine the impact to the environment and to the communities who live along the Baram should the dam be put in place.  In reality however, the process is nothing more than a rubber stamp, enabling the Sarawak government to fast-track profits for Taib and his cronies.
The  United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN-DRIP), of which Malaysia is a signatory, states that the government must obtain free, prior and informed consent before adopting projects that will have major impacts for indigenous communities, but that’s not what is happening.
The Borneo Project has heard from our partners in the Baram area that, instead of collecting data in an objective manner, the government is using the SEIA process to persuade and coerce local communities. Instead of asking people what they think of dams, government officials  have been quoted as saying the following: 

“Your village is the only one which does not agree to the dam. All the other villages have given their full cooperation and agreed to the construction of the dam.”

“Why don’t you just cooperate with us? The construction of the dam is confirmed. If don’t cooperate you will not get compensation once the dam is completed.”

In addition to these coercive — and false — statements, the government consultant office has asked the people affected to fill up the form with pencils (which could be erased) and sign them with ink (which can’t be erased). When affected community members asked the officers for copies of the form, they were refused by the officers. 

The SAVE-Rivers network is urging community members to remain vigilant, and to report illegal coercion to the police. Still, for many of the people living along the Baram River, information about dam expansion comes from two sources: the SAVE-Rivers network and government officials. The government has the legal and moral obligation to tell communities the full truth about the impact of the dams, to follow through on the compensation they are offering, and to give the people the right to accept or reject these projects. 

Together with the SAVE-Rivers Network, the Borneo Project calls for the government of Sarawak to respect the rights of indigenous people and to stop all dam expansion in Sarawak — starting with the Baram Dam.  

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