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Nomadic Penan of Sarawak in trouble

category indonesia / philippines / australia | community struggles | news report author Sunday July 24, 2005 15:38author by Karen Saturdayauthor email nomadikan at coolgoose dot com Report this post to the editors

From Melbourne Indymedia

The Penan tribe of Sarawak, Borneo are under threat from the notorious Samling timber company.

The Penan tribe of Sarawak, Borneo are under threat from the notorious Samling timber company. Despite years of resistence to any assault on their homelands the voices of the Penan continue to be ignored. We can help...

Samling awarded MTCC certification for territory of last nomadic Penan - Sarawak, Borneo.

Sarawak lies on the north-west coast of Borneo and is the largest of the Malaysian states. It holds an abundance of gas and oil below the surface, dense rainforest above and is home to thousands of tribal people. Some of the tribal peoples of Sarawak are traditionally nomadic but the majority are now settled in villages and practise agriculture. Only a small minority still live by their nomadic hunter-gatherer heritage, they are the Penan. An infamously gentle people, the Penan depend on the forest for their livelihood, their spiritual beliefs and their identity.

The Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC) has granted a certificate for forest management to the timber company Samling for a region of forest which is under claim by the Penan. The disputed land in the Ulu Baram area is still pending a court decision. Regardless of this the MTCC has awarded certification for logging procedures to go ahead. No consultation with the communities of the region ever took place.

The state legal system has no regard for the Penan, denying them the right to a home and slandering their balanced culture which has sustained itself and the surrounding environment for countless generations. The results come at lethal pace - the rivers have turned to silt, in turn killing the fish, game retreats deeper into the forest. The Penan suffer from malnutrition and water-borne diseases, new roads bring disease and also leave them vulnerable to many forms of abuse which continue this very moment as you read this page.

The government is constantly attempting to ‘develop’ and ‘modernise’ the nomadic Penan, believing a settled life of agriculture to be far more civilised, and the hunter-gatherers to be ’backwards’ . They talk of integration and opportunities through development, (logging, mining, oil palm plantations, dams and tourism) but the only results seen by tribal peoples tend to be disease, hunger and resettlement to a life that is completely unthinkable in their culture.

Timber is big business in Sarawak and often at the heart of the countrys’ politics.

The World Bank reported in 1991 that Sarawak was being logged at four times the sustainable rate, but even this appears to be a conservative estimate when you witness the pace of destruction first hand.

Many communities and NGOs have raised concern over MTCC decisions in the past, and a recent Greenpeace investigation has exposed numerous flaws within the MTCC certification process such as no independent tracking of wood from forests to first point of timber processing being evident. The report demonstrates beyond all doubt that MTCC procedures cannot ensure the legality of the products they certify as legal. It also dismantles any notion that the MTCC Chain of Custody system is functioning as it should to give legal credibility and proof of sustainability to its certifications.

Despite all this, April 2005 saw MTCCS’ presentation at the ‘ITTO Workshop on Phased Approaches to Certification’ in Switzerland received well by some of the participants. This is a major concern to those pushing for higher standards and sustainability guarantees in the timber industry. Organisations such as Bruno Manser Fonds sent reports against MTCC to each participant at the meeting in an effort to present a more balanced picture.

Malaysian NGOs are currently prompting the MTCC to comply with Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) standards and processes. The FSC runs the only truly credible certification scheme which meets international standards. So please exercise your consumer power when buying timber products, do not buy or recommend MTCC certified wood to others, purchase and steer others towards FSC products.

The Penan have protested against the certification and appealed to the responsible federate minister with no success. There has been no substantial reaction from these parties so far. They continue to protest this breach of their claimed Native Customary Rights (NCR) and Native Customary Lands (NCL) and are demanding that the companies stop operations until the land disputes are resolved.

Most of the NCL do not have ‘official’ records or documents to certify that the Penan are the occupiers and therefore the rightful owners of the land. The state government do not advocate map surveillance projects to demarcate the Native Customary Land, and so companies exploit this failing.

This is an extract from a letter sent to the Malaysian Timber Certification Council by more than 600 members of the Penan in January 2005:

“Many of us have suffered due to the Samling logging operations: our rivers are polluted, our sacred sites damaged and our animals chased away by people who deprive us of our livelihood and culture.

For many years, we have been raising our voice to protest against Samling activities, but neither the company nor the government is listening to us. We cannot accept that Samling timber be now awarded with a certificate to continue offending the Native Customary Rights.

We stay united and we are determined in our protest against this offence of our rights.

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