Archive for the ‘GREEN SURF’ Category

Saving the rivers of Sarawak (Part 1)

About 150 representatives, mostly from indigenous communities all over Sarawak, who are affected with state-wide plans to build 12 more mega-dams convened in Miri on the 16 – 18 February, 2012.

Among these participants included representatives from communities affected by three mega-dams that have already been built in Sarawak: Batang Ai, Bengoh and Bakun.

The workshop was to discuss about the impact of the mega-dams in Sarawak on the livelihoods of the affected communities and the adverse effects on the environment. The newly formed Save Rivers Network (SAVE Rivers), a coalition from local NGOs, communities and individuals, is the organizer of the event.

Women's group discussing plan of action for mobilizing their committees on the anti mega-dams campaign.

The first day of the workshop opened with a night of sharing stories. Various individuals, particularly from the three built mega-dams, spoke up of how their communities are dealing with the aftermath.

One community representative from the controversial Bakun dam that caused the displacement of more than 9,000 people in the 1990’s, spoke on the pros & cons of the Rumah (House/Longhouse) Bakah Asap resettlement. The cons outweighed the benefits, and he listed woes such as not enough land for farming, hunting, and lack of forests to harvest food. The lack of land had led to many conflicts among the community, he disclosed. He also spoke about despite the convenience of being closer to towns, this has led to many petty crimes from the youth, who have better access to drugs and alcohol. The income level of the new community resettlement averages below RM900/month (about USD281/month), which is below poverty level in Malaysia.

Workshop discussion between the speakers and the SAVE Rivers committee

A Batang Ai representative spoke about how the forests that they used to hunt and gather forest produce are now off-access because soon after the building of Batang Ai dam, the remaining forests were gazetted as a National Park. Currently only a handful of communities living near Batang Ai dam are allowed to hunt non-protected wildlife species, and gather non-timber forest products. He also spoke of how the communities were promised RM8000/bilik (per family room in a longhouse), two acres of land and five acres of rubber but three decades later, they are still waiting for full compensation.

Cynthia speaking about her experience with the Green SURF anti-coal campaign in Sabah

Similarly to the Rumah Bakah Asap resettlement, the Batang Ai communities live in conflict for land to plant, and hunt. The Batang Ai representative spoke of the irony of living close to the dam, but having no access to water or electricity.

The Bengoh dam representative’s story eerily mirrored the experiences of the Batang Ai and Bakun communities. He spoke of how the communities were promised RM12000 (USD3500) per family yet he added that this amount did not truly reflect how much the land is worth to his community. He added that the community was taking the case to court in regards of lack of full compensation that was promised.

“Sekatan terhadap org luar masuk dari Semanjung. Barang yg dipesan seperti paip, baja tdk dibenarkan & disekat [There are restrictions to West Malaysians coming into our area. Ordered goods such as water pipes, and fertilizer are not allowed and restricted],” he added.

He spoke of oppression, and how the communities were coerced into accepting compensations that they did not really want.

While the stories shared on the opening night were quite despondent, the energy in the room remained quite high. The participants were ready to share more stories, and to discuss the next steps for the SAVE Rivers campaign.

Cynthia Ong and Penan community elders affected by Sarawak's mega dams

Written by June Rubis

Manager, Civil Society Initiatives & Wildlife Conservation



Happy Holidays!!

One Step Forward For Indigenous People in Land Tussle

Wearing black traditional outfits decked with colourful beads and brass belts, over 300 men, women and children gathered at the Kota Kinabalu Courts Complex on 24th November 2011 to listen to an argument appealing for the High Court to hear a land rights case.

A plea by the Tongod villagers "Dont take away our customary land"

The indigenous people, largely from the Kadazandusun group, arrived at a nearby city park at 7am, as a sign of solidarity for villagers in remote Tongod, a district in central Sabah.

Villager Darinsuk Pangiran Apan and four others are in a land tussle with private company Hap Seng Consolidated Berhad and four other parties – a matter that has dragged on all the way to Malaysia’s highest judiciary level – the Federal Court.

Cynthia Ong lending support to one of the villagers claiming native customary rights over land. Pictured here with Darinsuk Pangiran Apan.

Just before 9am, villagers marched silently to the High Court building, not bothered by curious looks from passers-by, minutes before the Federal Court sat to listen to their appeal.

Those who were unable to find a seat in the building watched a video of the proceedings – streamed live from a laptop to a large mobile screen.

Watching the deliberation from a live feed outside the court room.

Six hours later, the Federal Court allowed the appeal and remitted the case to the High Court. The nation’s highest court also ruled that the High Court should not have dismissed the villagers’ claim based on preliminary objection, and that the order of the High Court as affirmed by the Court of Appeal should be set aside.

The fight is not over.

Although the legal battle is still on, the Federal Court’s decision is viewed as a positive step in the need to continuously advocate the rights of indigenous people over land – a thorny issue in Sabah, and in many other places around the world.

More photos on our Facebook page.

Engaging All Quarters Crucial in Resolving Land Issues: LEAP

As part of an assessment of a local land rights programme, two independent evaluators met the Sabah Lands and Surveys Department to gather information on related issues, in particular claims for native customary rights (NCR).

The recent meeting saw Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP) Executive Director Cynthia Ong and independent consultant Birgitte Feiring of Denmark, getting feedback from Department Director Datuk Osman Jamal and his Deputy (Land) Lee Chun Khiong on land ownership among natives, including the state’s current focus in issuing Communal Titles.

Ong and Feiring sought the meeting to get the Government’s perspective on land claims, a subject that remains controversial as individuals, communities and private entities continue to apply for land ownership.

“We visited several remote villages in Tenom, Keningau, Tongod and Ranau last week, and one of the main grouses raised by communities was their right to land ownership.

“To make a fair assessment of the situation, we followed up by speaking to lawyers, the media and to Government departments. We are glad that the Lands and Surveys Department was open to answering some of our queries,” she said in a statement issued today by LEAP.

Ong and Feiring spent 10 days until Oct 26 evaluating local NGO Partners of Community Organisations (PACOS) Trust’s Land Rights and Natural Resource Management programme.

The evaluation will provide the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC) and the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) with an assessment on the impacts, results and effectiveness of activities carried out under the said programme.

Ong said it is important to continue engaging with all quarters in finding solutions to complicated issues, such as land ownership. She said some situations may require solutions that are based on unique characteristics of a certain area or community.

(From left) Independent consultant Birgitte Feiring and Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP) Executive Director Cynthia Ong in a discussion with Sabah Lands and Surveys Department Director Datuk Osman Jamal and his Deputy (Land) Lee Chun Khiong.
Independent consultant Birgitte Feiring (left) and Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP) Executive Director Cynthia Ong getting answers from Sabah Lands and Surveys Department Director Datuk Osman Jamal (right) on the issuance of titles to natives.


In a related development, LEAP Executive Director Cynthia Ong and independent consultant Birgitte Feiring of Denmark took part in media dialogue with representatives from several local Sabah newspapers. The following is an article that appeared in the Daily Express, as a result of the Press meet.

Indigenous people and contemporary crises

Newspaper article written by our staff member June Rubis.

Indigenous people and contemporary crises - looking for solution. Daily Express 14th Nov 2011

Grist article features Sabah No Coal Campaign

Our CEO, Cynthia Ong, co-authored the article below with the global anti-coal gang. Our Sabah story is featured on first of twelve.


Read more Down with coal!


Il paradiso a rischio del Borneo malese

We think it roughly translates – Paradise at risk of Malaysian Borneo (blame ‘Google translate’ if that’s not the case)

One of our staff,  who was formerly an intern at LEAP, invited Bruno Picozzi – an Italian journalist to our office last month.  Bruno wrote an article for the Italian environmental newspaper La Terra about renewable energy options in Sabah.  He based it on Dan Kammen’s renewable energy report.

Il paradiso a rischio del Borneo malese

However it is in Italian.

So if there are any Italian speakers out there who could assist with the translation then we would be very grateful.

We tried with ‘Google translate’ but it came out all funny 🙂

Pdf version of the article: Il paradiso a rischio del Borneo malese