December 22, 2010
The Penan community of Ba Jawi is suing Samling, a controversial logging company, and the Sarawak state government in an effort to protect the area of "high conservation value" rainforest. Samling aims to log the land for timber but the Penan say the concession was granted illegally because it is traditionally used by forest people.
The case is the fifth native customary rights suit brought by Penan in the Upper Baram river basin since 1998, according to the Bruno Manser Fund (BMF), an indigenous rights' group that is supporting the Penan's cause. Malaysian courts have ruled on behalf of the Penan in prior cases but the state government has largely ignored the decisions.
Samling bulldozers near Ba Jawi. Photo courtesy of BMF.
Samling has long been criticized by environmental groups for destructive logging practices and conflict with forest communities. However the company has enjoyed close relations with Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud, who has ruled since 1981 and accumulated great wealth despite a earning a civil servant's wage. Recent investigations have linked tens of millions of dollars' worth property holdings in the United States and Canada to Taib's family.