Murum Dam Blockade Continues Amid Human Rights Abuses

By Tara Holmes, Communications Manager for the Borneo Project

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Construction of another mega-dam in Sarawak. Photo courtesy of Joe Lamb

A fight against a mega dam in the Malaysian district of Sarawak is intensifying as Malaysian police move to arrest more than 40 people who have taken part in a peaceful protest at the blockade site of the Murum Dam, which is now beginning to flood the forest behind it.

Borneo Rainforest photoMore than 100 people from the Penan ethnic group have been blockading traffic in a last-ditch effort to get the government and the state owned-power company, Sarawak Energy Berhad, to provide appropriate compensation for the loss of their lands and homes. Carrying protest signs along with their food and bedding, they have taken over the only road to and from the dam site and are not allowing any traffic through. The dam, one of 12 large dams planned across the region, is drowning more than 2,750 square-kilometers of forest and traditionally owned land.

This is the second blockade that the Penan of the Murum area have erected. The first blockade was in September 2012, when the Penan of Long Wat village held a blockade that delayed construction of the dam for more than a month. Sarawak Energy Berhad promised the Penan compensation and prime land for relocation. But the company has failed to deliver on its promises. Instead, the company is relocating the Penan to swampy areas that are unable to support their traditional agricultural practices.

The recent blockade began on September 29. Penan villages adjacent to the dam have not yet been resettled and no agreement has been reached about the terms of their forced resettlement. According to Sarawak Energy Berhad, the six villages, home to an estimated 1,500 people, will be flooded within 12 months.

Sarawak Energy Berhad and its CEO, Torstein Dale Sjotveit, claim to be on good terms with the Penan of Murum. Yet when a delegation of Penan from the Murum region, who refused to accept the current resettlement terms met with Sjotveit, he yelled at them and then refused to provide them transportation back to their homes, forcing them to walk for several hours. Sjotveit also shouted at police officers present at the dam site calling them “cowards” when they refused to take action against the protesters.

“The world needs to stand up and take action against such rampant abuse of power”, says Jettie Word, director of the Borneo Project. “The plight of the Penan is a fundamental example of corporate greed steamrolling human rights.”

Photo courtesy of Joe Lamb
Photo courtesy of Joe Lamb

The Murum Dam is just one of 12 dams slated to be built in Malaysian Borneo by 2020. The dam will produce 944 MW of energy, energy that currently has no purchasers.

According to the local group SAVE-Rivers, a statewide network of anti-dam activists, the Penan are demanding RM 50,000 per family (about US $15,500), 25 hectares of land per family, a 10 percent share in the profits from the Murum Dam, as well as full compensation for their lost land and resources.

Earth Island Journal | October 10, 2013