Documentary exposes plight of indigenous people displaced by Malaysia’s mega-dams
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Documentary exposes plight of indigenous people displaced by Malaysia’s mega-dams

A new documentary shows how developmental projects like mega-dams have decimated the lives of indigenous people in Malaysia who have been displaced without proper resettlement or compensation.

The Borneo Project (BP) has released Broken Promises: Displaced by Dams, the third film in a series about the hydroelectric dams proposed for construction in Sarawak, Malaysia.

Broken Promises tells the story of forced displacement of indigenous peoples to make way for the dams. Although the dams are being built on native land, BP claims that indigenous communities have not been properly consulted and are being forcefully relocated from their communities. While the government promises full compensation, better schools, access to healthcare, housing, and adequate farmland, these promises are rarely, if ever, kept, the organization said.

According to the conservation group, the Baram Dam, the next in line to be built, is also going ahead against the will of the indigenous communities. They have been denied information, excluded from participation in studies and decision-making, and coerced into accepting the dam through threats and intimidation. They have thus been denied their rights to their lands, territories, and self-determination. The Baram people have actively protested the dam through rallies, conferences and two blockade sites that have halted progress on the dam since October 2013.

There is a long history of human rights abuses in Sarawak. Displacement and resettlement issues began long before the Baram Dam controversies. In 1998, for example, the government of Sarawak relocated around 10,000 people to the resettlement area of Sungai Asap to make way for the Bakun Dam. Over 15 years later these families are still struggling to make a living and Sungai Asap has been declared a resettlement disaster.

People were required to pay for their own housing, which forced many families into debt. Each family was promised 10 acres of farmland but was only provided wit three acres, often a half-day’s journey away, and often on infertile, rocky land.


Local people watch on the sidelines as heavy machinery arrives to build Murum Dam. Pic: Supplied.

The dam has polluted the river, poisoning their water source, spreading illness, and killing the fish they depend on for food and income. The resettlement site is surrounded by oil palm plantations and the people no longer have access to their former hunting grounds. Ironically adding insult to injury, the transmission lines carrying electricity from the Bakun Dam pass directly over Sungai Asap, but the relocated people cannot access the power for which they were displaced. Instead, they have government-managed diesel generators that are often locked because they are unable to afford the expensive costs of diesel.

“The race to accumulate wealth and money through mega-projects that only benefit the elite has led to a blatant disregard for human rights,” said Jettie Word, executive eirector of The Borneo Project.

Broken Promises was released in conjunction with a rally organized at the town of Long Lama, near one of the blockades sites, where Chief Minister Adenan is launching a new bridge. Hundreds of protesters are expected to gather at the blockade site and cross the river to receive Adenan and make it clear that the people of Baram do not want the Baram Dam.

Broken Promises can be viewed in English and Bahasa Malaysia on The Borneo Project’s website,

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