Friday, March 4, 2011

Sarawak natives file land rights case

Press Release dated 3 March 2011 from the Bruno Manser Fund...

Kelabit, Penan and Lun Bawang plaintiffs join forces to claim 1770 km2 of tropical rainforests in Upper Limbang, Sarawak – first land rights litigation uniting three ethnic groups in Malaysian Borneo

Sarawak natives file historic land rights case

MIRI (MALAYSIA). For the first time in the history of Malaysia, natives from three different tribes have filed a joint land rights litigation. This morning, representatives from the Kelabit, Penan and Lun Bawang communities of Upper Limbang, Sarawak, on the island of Borneo have filed a joint land rights litigation at the Miri High Court in which they are claiming native customary rights over 1770 km2 of tropical forests in the Limbang river basin. The case is being represented by native rights lawyer Baru Bian who also heads the Sarawak branch of the oppositional Justice Party (PKR).

The joint claim over an area twice the size of Singapore is directed against the Sarawak state government and four Malaysian logging and plantation companies that had been given concessions over the native lands without the communities’ consent. The companies listed as defendants are Ravenscourt Sdn Bhd, Billion Venture Sdn Bhd, Limba Jaya Timber Sdn Bhd and Kubang Sri Jaya Sdn Bhd. Ravenscourt is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Samling group which has recently been blacklisted by the Norwegian government for its involvement in illegal activities and environmentally destructive logging.

Click on map to enlarge

The Kelabit, Penan and Lun Bawang plaintiffs have been living in the Upper Limbang region for hundreds of years. Since the early 1980s, the region has been logged under a number of logging concessions. Currently, the area is being threatened by a major dam project on the Limbang river and the conversion of secondary forests into oil palm and paper tree plantations. All this while, the native communities had no say whatsoever on the use of their native lands by the Sarawak government and had only received ridiculous compensation payments by some logging companies who made millions of the dollars from logging the tropical hardwoods in the region.

After having lodged the case, representatives of the native communities displayed a banner in front of the Miri High Court building which read “Indigenous people taking action for change to save the last remaining Sarwak rainforest”. Currently, close to 200 native communities from Sarawak have challenged the state government over its land rights policies. The native land issue is also a heated subject during the runup to the next state election which is to be held before July 2011.

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