Indigenous group pleads for help from Sarawak government

Madeline (red shirt) receiving the report from Jok from Sahabat Alam Malaysia, who is representing the group seeking Suhakam’s help in their plight.

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KUCHING, Dec 19: A group of indigenous Sarawakians from Baram division are pleading to the state government to revoke provisional leases (PL) issued to plantation and logging companies involving their native customary rights (NCR) lands.

Coming all the way from Marudi, Tinjar, Bakong, Batu Niah and Long Pilah, the seven representatives from Kayan, Lun Bawang and Iban communities including Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) met up with Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) Sarawak commissioner Dr Madeline Berma yesterday.

Today, the group handed their official demand to the state government through Suhakam.

They are Alpius Murang (Rh Jemat Stapang, Marudi), Mesum Ngindang (Rh Manjan, Baram), Jaba Mawa (Rh Beliang, Logan Tasan), Esa Jueng (Rh Labang, Tinjar), Lachi Bikang (Rh Lachi, Batu Niah), Gasah Tedong (Rh Gasah, Bakong), Ngau Anyie Jau (Long Pilah), Jok Jau Evong and Shamila Ariffin (SAM).

Speaking at a press conference, Madeline said based on her initial meeting and discussion with the group, it was understood that the villagers wanted the state government to help and act because their NCR (native customary right) lands had been encroached by developers.

According to Jok, one of the representatives from Sahabat Alam Malaysia, the PL involved 32 longhouses from about 22,900 hectares of land in today’s submission.

However, it was understood that not the whole area would be developed as some land had legal titles.

Madeline assured that Suhakam will look into the report submitted by the group.

“We will go through it throughly and then bring this matter up to the relevant authorities, including the company involved. We will engage more to the masses by going on the ground and meet the villages,” she said.

Indigenous peoples’ NCR land are protected under the Land Codes of each of the states. Nevertheless, these rights are constantly violated by government and private companies through land grabbing or illegal encroachment.

In this case, they claimed that oil palm companies have started work and demolishing the forest and villages where they are staying.

“The NCR landowners want their properties back since much of these leased out areas have not been cleared or developed for oil palm,” Madeline said, explaining why they wanted the state government to revoke the PL.

This she said, had resulted in continuous human rights violations of the indigenous peoples, especially the encroachment into their native land by developers.

Not only was this against the rights of our native people, she said, but also the flora and fauna in Baram.

“Please understand, that our indigenous people has never and will never reject development. However, they want development that will benefit them and the communities. Instead, developments are seen as only benefiting companies and state government from huge mega projects.

“They are not demanding for unnecessary items, but the very basic ‘bread and butter’ such as access road, electricity and piped or treated water supply. For them, this is the meaning of development,” she asserted.

Giving a simple example, Madeline said the forest was considered as these people’s ‘supermarket’.

“This is where they get their food. This is where they work and hunt. This is where they build roofs to shelter their families. When their lands are taken away or sold, where can these people go, or farm, to put food on the table,” she said. —DayakDaily