Penan man, Malaysia.
Penan man, Malaysia. © Andy Rain/Nick Rain/Survival

Survival’s director Stephen Corry has written to the Malaysian government, urging it to uphold the rights of the Penan and other tribes of Sarawak.

Malaysia’s Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Tan Sri Bernard Dompok said last month that the Malaysian federal and Sarawak state governments were, ‘in the process of finalising a mechanism on how to solve the issue of native customary rights land in the state,’ according to the government news agency Bernama. The minister made his statement during the run-up to a hotly contested by-election in the Sarawak town of Sibu.

The Sarawak government does not uphold indigenous peoples’ rights to their land, and allows logging and plantation companies to operate on it without the tribes’ consent. The Penan tribe rely heavily on the forests, and have repeatedly mounted blockades to keep the logging companies out.

In letters to the Prime Minister of Malaysia and the Chief Minister of Sarawak, Stephen Corry wrote, ‘The Sarawak government’s failure to uphold the Penan’s rights to their land is in violation of the principles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The activities of logging and plantation companies have impoverished them, destroying their sources of food and clean water. We are also concerned that Penan and other indigenous people are threatened with displacement for the construction of the Murum dam and other hydroelectric dams across the state, again without their consent.

‘I urge you to ensure that the rights of the Penan and other indigenous peoples of Sarawak are respected, and that all logging, plantations and other developments on their land without their consent are halted.’