Penan, Sarawak, Malaysia.
Penan, Sarawak, Malaysia.
© Robin Hanbury-Tenison/Survival

The government of the Malaysian state of Sarawak is ignoring a recent court ruling recognizing the rights of the Penan and other tribes to their land, according to a leading Sarawak indigenous rights lawyer.

The Malaysian Federal Court ruled in May that indigenous people in Sarawak, in the Malaysian part of Borneo, have rights to land they use for hunting and gathering as well as land they use for growing food.

The ruling gave hope to the Penan tribe, whose land the government has so far refused to recognize because they cannot provide evidence that they have used it over many years to cultivate food crops. Unlike the other indigenous peoples of Sarawak, the Penan are hunter-gatherers.

Lawyer Baru Bian claims that the Sarawak government is refusing to accept the Federal Court’s ruling, which has implications for the indigenous rights cases his firm is handling.

Baru Bian, responding to claims by the Malaysian Prime Minister that his government has ‘no intention of grabbing anybody’s land’, said in a statement, ‘the fact and the truth is that the people’s land, in particular, the natives’ customary lands had already been taken.’

Read Baru Bian’s statement in full on the Sarawak blog ‘Hornbill Unleashed’