Five Penan rainforest communities are suing the Sarawak state government and the Malaysian timber giant Samling for violation of their native customary rights, reports the Bruno Manser Fund, a group that works on behalf of indigenous groups in Malaysia.
The communities are demanding land titles for an area of 80,000 hectares, cancellation of four “unlawfully” issued logging and plantation licenses on their lands, and compensations for damages done by timber companies. The Penan have asked for an injunction “against the licensees, plus their contractors and subcontractors, for the removal of all structures, equipment and machinery from the plaintiffs’ native customary rights land,” according to the Bruno Manser Fund.
To make their case, the Penan are providing evidence to show that they have long occupied and used the lands on question. The Penan plaintiffs call the “Sarawak government’s conduct ‘oppressive, arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional.'”
Interhill was here: In March 2006, the company’s bulldozers reached Ba Abang, a Penan village in the Middle Baram region.
A statement from Bruno Manser Fund elaborates:
The Penan plaintiffs state that, for over ten years, various logging operators have wrongfully trespassed onto their ancestral land with bulldozers, excavators, shovels, trucks and lorries and have destroyed a substantial area of their forest, fruit trees, crops and cultural heritage, such as graves and historical sites. They object to the Sarawak government’s issue of timber and planted-forest licences, which the plaintiffs consider to be “oppressive, arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional”.
The Malaysian government recently confirmed allegations by the Penan of the middle Baram region that logging workers had molested, abused, and raped several indigenous girls. Meanwhile an independent review of logging operations in the region commissioned by the French Accor group “uncovered numerous offenses committed by Interhill [a timber firm] against the Sarawak forestry legislation,” notes the Bruno Manser Fund/
The Penan, some of whom still live as nomadic hunter-gatherers in the rainforests of Sarawak, have been battling loggers since the 1980s, when large-scale industrial logging commenced in the Malaysian state. At times they have faced intimidation and violent crackdowns at the hands of security forces hired by logging firms and Malaysian police. In January 2008 a Penan chief, Kelesau Naan, was allegedly murdered for his longtime opposition to logging.
The plight of the Penan made international headlines in the 1990s due a campaign by Bruno Manser, a Swiss national, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 2000. Since then the cause has been championed by the Bruno Manser Fund.