Villagers Blockade Timber and Palm Oil Company in Belaga, Sarawak

Since November 2012, the affected community of Sambob Longhouse in Sungai Jamutin, Belaga,  has been protesting the encroachment to their Native Customary Rights (NCR) and the lost promises of Ekran Sdn. Berhad, a Malaysia logging and palm oil company. Read more below.

Written by Simone Adler, Communications and Events Intern

Read more about Indigenous Land Protection

Watch a video about the Struggle for Land Rights in Malaysia

Listen to the  Free Radio Sarawak Interview in Malay about the blockade 

Sambob Community Blockade in Sungai Jamutin, Belega. Photo Credit: Peter Kallang, SAVE Rivers

Sambob Community Blockade in Sungai Jamutin, Belega. Photo Credit: Peter Kallang, SAVE Rivers

In the traditional longhouse community of Sambob, located in Sungai Jamutin in the Belaga province of eastern Malaysian Borneo, villagers are demonstrating that they no longer tolerate the illegal infringement of their land and Native Customary Rights (NCR) after years of exploitation from logging and palm oil plantations. 

The company at fault is Ekran Sdn Berhad, a Malaysian investment holding company that engages in logging, timber sale, and palm oil businesses. Ekran never gained consent of the local indigenous communities living in Sungai Jamutin before encroaching on their land and clearing timber or planting palm oil. Protests from the Sambob Longhouse villagers were ignored from the start, and Ekran’s commitment to give the villagers shares in the business became an empty promise.

“The company started the exploitation in the 1990s when they extracted timber from the area,” says Padan Uleh, speaking on behalf of Sambob  Longhouse in an interview with Peter Kallang, Chairman of Save Rivers Sarawak (SAVE Rivers). “This was done although there were strong protests by those affected. After the timbers were exhausted, Ekran Sd. Bhd. started the Oil Palm Plantation in the early 2000(s).”

Padan explains that protests again occurred when Ekran began with the palm oil, and this time the company promised the people of Sambob that they would get shares in the plantation. This was more of a symbolic act to make the company seem like it was negotiating with the affected communities than any real commitment. “However, after more than 10 years, although the plantation has been producing, the promise of shares was not fulfilled,” says Padan. 

Tent at Ekran Blockade in Sungai Jamutin. Photo Credit: Peter Kallang, SAVE Rivers

Tent at Ekran Blockade in Sungai Jamutin. Photo Credit: Peter Kallang, SAVE Rivers

The struggle to protect customary land and resources exists throughout many indigenous communities in Borneo – where logging, damming, and palm oil have destroyed the pristine rainforests of the island and disrupted the traditional longhouse lifestyles of the natives. Both the companies responsible for the exploitation and the Sarawak state government have not heeded to the concerns of these communities, and now people in Sungai Jamutin are showing that enough is enough.

The people of Sambob Longhouse have been engaged in a blockade since 28 November 2012 to show Ekran that they will not stand by the destruction of their land or allow Ekran to make empty promises with out addressing the issues of NCR.

Furthermore, Ekran has violated the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) by not holding consultations with the villagers before they began work. Free, Prior and Informed Consent is a principle of the UNDRIP, to which Malaysia is a signatory. The current blockade is cause for international attention to the clear violation of human rights and environmental exploitation in the Sambob community and elsewhere in Borneo.