28 April 2008
The continued arrest of indigenous community leaders by the police, acting in collusion with plantation companies in Sarawak must stop immediately. The recent arrests of five community leaders in the Kg. Wawasan area with trumped up charges organized by the company with the support of the police reflects the high handedness in which plantation companies violate the native customary rights to land by the indigenous communities.
The International fact finding team consisting of Justice Pana Chand Jain of Centre for Community Economics and Development Consultants Society (CECOEDECON) from India, Ravadee Prasertcharoensuk of Sustainable Development Foundation (SDF) from Thailand and Debra Erenberg of Rainforest Action Network (RAN) from the United States visited over 19 communities consisting of 70 villages and long houses and met with about 825 people from the north to central and south of Sarawak and found that there was continued and systemic organized aggression on indigenous peoples land and rights.
The IFFM team established through interviews with the people, through documented evidence provided by the people and through evidence found in the form of graves, fruit trees and cultivated land that the land areas claimed by the people are native customary rights to land (NCR). There is a pre-existing right.
The team is of the opinion that since the lands are native customary lands through continuous customary practices of cultivation for generations, the land cannot be taken away from the indigenous peoples by the state government nor be leased out to private companies for plantations. This strategy and action constitutes gross violation of indigenous peoples’ rights to NCR land.
The Sarawak Land Code [CAP81] clearly recognizes the NCR lands and has defined the elements that give recognition to native customary rights to land. Further to this the Federal Court decision of Madeli Salleh vs government of Sarawak states very clearly that the customary rights of inhabitants were recognized and accepted by the British crown when it governed Sarawak. It became part of common law. These customary rights therefore are part of common law and thus must be recognized and protected.
Land is life and guarantees the peoples livelihood. The Federal constitution ensures the right to life and livelihood. Thus when the land of the indigenous people are taken away, then their livelihood is gone. As a consequence, it violates the constitutional rights of the indigenous peoples.
Therefore, the IFFM team reiterates that the indigenous peoples struggle to their land is legitimate. It is the responsibility of the state and federal governments to recognize the NCR to land and livelihood. The state can no longer lease indigenous peoples land to lease out for plantations or contract farming to companies.
The current intensive and extensive violations of the NCR land is bringing about devastating impact on the lives of the indigenous peoples. The development of oil palm plantations at a rate of 7% covering more than 40% of land in Sarawak has tremendously reduced food production; destroyed the rivers where communities depended on the fish; the pollution of the rivers, particularly with highly hazardous pesticides and the environment has affected the health of communities with increase in diseases.
The insatiable expansion of this monocrop has destroyed the forests with the resultant loss of biodiversity that has even further affected the dependence of the indigenous communities for their livelihood. With the imminent global crisis on food, the indigenous communities will further face impoverishment and poverty.
The use of palm oil for agrofuel is a threat to food production and is one of the contributing factors of the current global food crisis. The increase demand for agrofuel has led to intensive expansion which has brought about deforestation, consequently impacting on climate change. It is crucial that Sarawak protects the rainforest as the last few rainforests left in the world.
We are very concerned that the increased violence and harassment on the indigenous communities especially on the leaders by the companies involved in expanding the plantations. Such form of violence can only intensify the conflict without a due process and a people centered conflict resolution. It therefore demands people’s participation through a democratic process for peaceful resolution.
Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA)
People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS)