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Human rights groups denounce bid to expel indigenous from Baram Dam site
Published on: Saturday, October 25, 2014
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KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian and international human rights organisations have come together to publicly condemn the actions taken by authorities and logging company representatives to intimidate indigenous peoples in Sarawak at the proposed site of the Baram Dam. On Oct 21, action was taken by police from the General Operations Force (GOF), Forest Department officers and personnel representing logging interests from a company to pressure residents of Long Kesseh to abandon their customary lands and disperse from the site, where they had set up a barricade.

As a result of the violation of rights outlined in the national constitution and provisions of the United Nations (UN) Declaration on Indigenous Peoples, an urgent appeal was submitted on Oct 22 to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz.

The appeal calls on her to raise concerns with the Government of Malaysia about the actions taken to forcefully dismantle the barricade, which had been set up one year ago by local residents of Long Kesseh to assert their native customary rights (NCR) to land being allocated against their will for the Baram Dam site.

Exactly one year ago, on Oct 23, 2013, the people of Long Kesseh set up a barricade on an area of native customary land that would be submerged if the 1,200MW Baram Hydroelectric Project is built as proposed by Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB).

If this dam is completed, it would inundate 26 villages, including Long Kesseh, flooding 400 square kilometres of land and displacing between 6,000 to 20,000 people.

In response to SEB's efforts to begin preparatory work for the Baram Dam, residents of Long Kesseh and surrounding areas symbolically marked their defiance by building a barricade on their own land.

The members of longhouses to be affected by the Baram Dam, including Long Kesseh, have never given consent for any timber clearance or other preparatory project works to proceed on customary lands.

Yet, agents working with the company are claiming the land is part of a concession they were granted.

Although the circumstances related to the issuing of their logging permit remain ambiguous, the company has become associated with Sarawak Energy Berhad's efforts to clear timber around the Baram River and help pave the way for the construction of the proposed Baram Hydroelectric Project.

Serene Lim of the national human rights group, Suaram, said villagers in Baram are defending their customary property rights; they have not granted free, prior and informed consent for their land to be taken by the government or any private firm.

"That is why the people of Long Kesseh continue to affirm their rights to the area, and why they decided to rebuild the barricade," she said.

Thomas Jalong, a resident of Baram and President of the National Indigenous Peoples' Network, Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (Joas), meanwhile said that SEB needs access to the area currently being defended by the villagers if they are to proceed with the proposed Baram Dam.

Despite the fact that no social or environmental impact assessments for the proposed dam appear to have been approved, SEB is ready to jump into preparatory work.

"We are calling on the company, SEB and the Sarawak government to respect the native customary rights land designation and the rights of Indigenous Peoples to free, prior and informed consent," said Tanya Lee of International Rivers.

"As a matter of urgency, government authorities, companies and financiers must accept the fact that the Kayan, Kenyah and Penan people of Baram have expressed their widespread opposition to the Baram Dam and to further logging on their land," she said.

"Upholding national and international law along with industry best practices would mean withdrawing from the area and immediately returning any land already acquired for the purposes of the Baram Dam to the rightful landholders," she added.


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