Miranda’s Daily Blog: Day 304
“We will not remove the blockade or move out of here until our demands are resolved and fulfilled by the government” These are the inspiring words of Labang Paneh, from Long Wat village, Sarawak.
Today I want to share with you this story that has reignited my committment and inspiration by reminding me of the power of collective action, of the human spirit, of courage and resistance.
It was early in the morning a few weeks ago, on Sept 26th when about two hundred people gathered on the road leading to the construction site of the Murum dam project. The group set up a blockade, stopping access to the site and halting construction on the controversial dam project. The blockade has now grown to over 300, with more expected to arrive.
The blockaders are taking direct action to protect their ancestral homelands and their livelihoods.
The 275,000 hectare catchment of the dam includes the ancestral land of Sarawak’s indigenous communities. The Murum Dam project, if completed, will flood around 24,500 hectares, resulting in the forced relocation of around 1,500 indigenous Penan and 18 Kenyah-Badeng families, according to the NGO Bruno Manser Fonds. Yet, the communities affected were not even informed about the plans for their resettlement, until a secret document was leaked. This document outlined the compensation that would be given. They would lose: homelands, livelihoods, the forests they depend on for survival and the destruction of sacred and historical sites without their consent. To be replaced by a monthly payment that does not even meet the poverty line and which would cease after four years. In addition, the new farmlands designated as part of the resettlement plan are already occupied by palm plantations run by big companies, leaving very limited forest for traditional livelihoods for the Penan.
Don’t the authorities realise that this is a violation of the rights of the Penan people? SAVE Rivers, a local network involved in the blockade, has offered to provide “tutoring lessons” to the government on this issue: “It is unfortunate that many high-level government leaders do not understand the international UN declaration that Malaysia has signed. We would therefore like an opportunity to explain to them the rights of indigenous peoples under the laws of this country” said Peter Kallang, chairman of SAVE Rivers (as quoted by BMF).
And the 300 strong community blockade is seeing to it that the government and the companies involved will not get away with such a blatant disregard for people’s rights. They have stated that no supply trucks will pass their blockade unless the Norwegian CEO of Sarawak Energy (the agency in charge of construction) and Sarawak’s authorities meet with them and agree to the communities demands.
The Penans have set up camp around the blockade, with makeshift huts made from wild-ginger and palm leaves. The government has stationed approximately 20 police from the General Armed Forces at the blockade site.
Make a donation to support the blockade HERE
Get updates on the action HERE.
Sign the online petition HERE.
As I sit here in this tree in an act of resistance to the destruction of these forests for the profit of Ta Ann. In another part of the world there are communities whose lives are impacted by the very same company. Recently cheifs from several Penan villages signed a statement calling on Ta Ann not to proceed with logging of their homelands. In addition, Dateline recently exposed the link between Hydro Tasmania and Sarawak Energy.
The Bruno Manser Fonds website had this to say about the role of Australia in the dam projects:
“Andrew Pattle, who was Project Manager for the Murum dam up until 2011 and is now Senior Project Manager for two other proposed dams, and Nick Wright, Vice President at Sarawak Energy, are just two of the Australian staff members seconded to the project. Without this knowledge transfer from Hydro Tasmania to Sarawak Energy, the realization of the planned dams would not be possible.” BMF also pointed out that Pattle had been in the news after he admitted that “safety and environmental standards are not given much importance in Sarawak” (BMF).
The Murum dam is one of 11 which the are planned across Sarawak that, if allowed to proceed, would flood thousands of hectares of customary land, displacing thousands of indigenous people.
“Please make our problems known throughout the world, so that everybody knows what the situation is like for us as Penan in Malaysia.” These words of a Sarawakian (quoted on BMF website) says it better than I could. This is a call to action, for anyone out there reading this, to help spread the word about an issue the media seems to remain silent on.
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(All images are copyright Bruno Manser Fonds)