Avatar in real life – Malaysia facilitates resource plunder by destroying homes of indigenous people

Danum river in Sabah, Malaysia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler 2008.

Rights groups have condemned the destruction of more than two dozen homes in the indigenous Iban community of Sungai Sekabai, in the Malaysian state of Sarawak. Malaysian authorities are said to be preparing to level the rest of the village soon.

The demolition of the homes is a dramatic escalation of a dispute between the Iban and a timber company, which has claimed lands customarily used by the Iban. The company has cleared much of the forest around the community, replacing it with acacia plantations (visible in the pictures below). The logging has occurred despite a 2001 court ruling acknowledged that the Iban community had native customary rights over both their farmland and surrounding primary rainforests.

The Sarawak state government has long backed industrial interests over those of native peoples like the Penan and Iban, both investing in projects — including oil palm plantations, mines, hydroelectric projects, and logging operations — and sending in the military and police to crush local opposition. Its newest scheme is known as SCORE, a set of projects that will turn a large swathe of Sarawak into an industrial corridor for mining and energy development. SCORE includes at least four hydroelectric dams (up to 28,000MW of power), aluminum-smelting and steel plants, coal mines (1.46 billion metric tons), and natural gas development (nearly 41 billion cubic feet), according the state government, which is trying to attract investment at a time when investors (domestic and foreign) are fleeing Malaysia due to concerns over corruption and political unrest.

Picture 1: Headman Nor anak Nyawai  of Sungai Sekabai in front of his destroyed house. Nor was the plaintiff of a 2001 landmark court case in which a Malaysian court acknowledged for the frist time acknowledged that native communities had native customary rights over primary rainforests.

Picture 2: Iban natives of Sungai Sekabai are shocked after the destruction of their village by the Malaysian authorities; in the center headman Nor anak Nyaway.

Picture 3: Destroyed house at the Iban village of Sungai Sekabai.

Picture 4: Destroyed house at the Iban village of Sungai Sekabai.

Picture 5: Iban villagers of Sungai Sekabai are gathering their belongings after their houses were demolished by a government team.

Picture 6: Rendered homeless by the Malaysian authorities: elderly Iban woman of Sungai Sekabai, Sarawak (Malaysia).

All photos courtesy of the Sarawak Indigenous Peoples’ network, TAHABAS.

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