Separate rallies are taking place in Australia and Malaysia in a collective effort to pressure the Malaysian government to stop the construction of 12 mega-dams that are underway in Sarawak.
In Malaysia, anti-dam protesters demonstrated outside Kuala Lumpur Parliament building on Thursday. They held signs against the Murum Dam and Baram Dam and called on the Malaysian government to respect indigenous peoples’ demands for a fair settlement of their rights.
In Murum, Sarawak, over 100 Penan leaders staged a blockade to stop the flow of traffic to the dam site on the same day. Their aim was to get the attention of the Malaysian government and the state owned-power company, Sarawak Energy, and pressure them to stop the mega-dam projects.
The protesters hope they got the message across: Respect indigenous and human rights and provide appropriate compensation for the loss of their lands and homes.
Carrying signs, and food and bedding, they have taken over the only road to and from the dam site and are not allowing any traffic through.
Brihannala Morgan, director of the Borneo Project, said in a press statement that this dam, one of 12 mega dams planned across the region, will drown over 2,750 sq km of forest and traditionally owned land.
This is the second blockade that the Penan people of the Murum area have erected. The first blockade was in September 2012 when the Penan of Long Wat village held a blockade that delayed construction of the dam for over a month.
Sarawak Energy promised the Penan compensation and prime land for relocation, but failed to deliver on its promises. Instead, they are relocating the Penan to swampy areas that are unable to support their traditional agricultural practices and way of life.
Just before impoundment began earlier this month, the longhouse of Long Wat village was burned by Sarawak Energy workers. Details are still forthcoming, yet it appears that this case of arson was committed without the prior knowledge of the villagers.
“The world needs to stand up and take action against such rampant abuse of power,” said Morgan, adding, “The plight of the Penan is a fundamental example of corporate greed steamrolling human rights.”
According to SAVE-Rivers, the statewide network of anti-dam activists, the Penan are demanding RM 50,000 per family (about US $15,500), as well as 25 hectares of land, a 10 per cent share in the profits from the Murum Dam, as well as full compensation for their lost land and resources.
The Murum Dam is one of 12 mega dams slated to be built in Malaysian Borneo by 2020. The dam will produce 944 MW of energy, energy that currently has no purchasers or identified demand. On-the-ground efforts, such as SAVE-Rivers, work to coordinate indigenous-led resistance against dam expansion and massive resettlement.
Protest held in Hobart
The Huon Valley Environment Centre (HVEC) hosted a separate protest at the at Hydro Tasmania head office in a show solidarity with the indigenous people of Murum, Sarawak.
Jenny Weber, spokeswoman of the HVEC, said Sarawak faces the dire consequences in light of the government’s failure to uphold human rights.
“Flooding of Murum Dam begun last Saturday, while six out of seven villages remain in the region, and more than 100 Penan people blockade at the Murum dam site,” she said.
Australia-owned Hydro Tasmania is implicated in the human and environmental violations by assisting Sarawak Energy.
The dam project in the area is reported to have caused flooding on the lands of indigenous peoples at Murum, although most of the affected villagers have not been resettled and their demands not addressed.
Weber also implicated Sarawak Energy workers as the suspected arsonist in a Penan village. “We have been informed that one Penan village was burnt down in a case of suspected arson by Sarawak Energy workers.” Other allegations include communities reporting the loss of fishing boats due to the impoundment. An estimated 1500 Penan and 80 Kenyah natives will lose their homes due to the Murum dam impoundment, Weber said.
“The construction of Murum dam would not have been possible without support from Western engineers and managers. Hydro Tasmania, have staff secondments in Sarawak, including engineer Andrew Pattle who directed the Murum dam construction. Hydro Tasmania is responsible for the displacement of indigenous peoples from their traditional lands. We condemn Hydro Tasmania, as they continue to assist human rights violations and environmentally destructive practices in Sarawak,” Weber said.
“We are asking Hydro Tasmania and our Tasmanian Government to stop supporting the Sarawak government in their oppression of indigenous people in Sarawak, stop implicating our state in this humanitarian crisis. As long as Tasmania assists the Sarawak regime they are culpable for assisting the Sarawak government’s human rights violations. People of Murum, Sarawak and International NGOs are calling for urgent intervention and an immediate stop of the Murum dam impoundment,” Weber said.
Former Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown flew to Kuching, the capital of the Malaysian state of Sarawak, earlier this year to give his backing to a large group of local communities opposing the controversial mega dam projects in the region.