Gordon Brown condemns ‘wanton destruction’ of Sarawak’s forests

The Penan have mounted countless blockades to stop their forest being destroyed.
The Penan have mounted countless blockades to stop their forest being destroyed.
© Andy Rain/Nick Rain/Survival

Ex-British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has issued an urgent call to stop the ‘wanton destruction’ of Sarawak’s tropical rainforest, before it is too late. Writing in the British newspaper ‘The Independent’ last month, he described deforestation in Sarawak, in the Malaysian part of Borneo, as, ‘probably the biggest environmental crime of our times.’

Sarawak’s Chief Minister Taib Mahmud faces hotly contested elections on April 16. He has held power in the rainforest state for 30 years, and has sponsored massive scale logging on tribal land.

Sarawak’s forests are home to many tribes, including the hunter-gatherer Penan, who rely on the forest for their survival. The Penan have resisted logging by mounting peaceful blockades. But much of their forest has been destroyed, making it increasingly difficult for them to find enough food to feed their families.

In areas where all the valuable timber has now been taken, companies are clearing the remaining forest to make way for palm oil and other plantations. Gordon Brown describes this as, ‘an environmental nightmare that shows no sign of slowing.’

One Penan man, whose forest has already been extensively logged, told Survival, ‘Life is very difficult for us now. A lot of people in the village are starving because there is no way for them to get food from the forest. It will be much worse even than this if our land is turned to palm oil or tree plantation’.

Gordon Brown ended with a rallying call to action: ‘The courage being shown by local Sarawak people gives us all a chance to stop the destruction. If the world fails now we are not guilty simply of a sin of omission; we will be actively condoning the destruction of a nation’s future by people too greedy to see the trees for the wood.’
Survival’s director Stephen Corry said today, ‘Gordon Brown is right, the world must not stand by and allow the Penan’s forest to be destroyed in the name of profit and greed. Without their forest the Penan have no future.’