Malaysian indigenous leaders launch campaign against plans for a 12 dam mega-complex
(MIRI, SARAWAK/MALAYSIA) For the first time in Sarawak's history, 150 indigenous representatives from areas already affected or to be affected by dam projects came together to share their experiences at a conference organized by the newly founded 'SAVE Rivers Network'. The conclusion to be drawn from the conference, which took place from 16th to 18th February 2012, is clear-cut: Sarawak's previous construction of dams has violated international human rights and environmental standards such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as well as basic rights guaranteed under the Malaysian constitution such as the right to property. Mistakes made during the construction of the recently completed Bakun dam are being repeated in new dam projects such as at Murum and Baram where affected communities complain about a lack of information and lack of participation.
The Sarawak state government, along with Chinese investors, plans to construct 12 more dams to provide 28,000 MW of electricity to create an industrial complex in Sarawak's remote jungles.
The representatives at the conference issued a joint statement demanding an immediate stop to all dam projects, respect for the right to consultation and a public discussion around these large-scale projects, which should be nurtured by a referendum to be held on the issue. Peter Kallang, chairperson of the SAVE Rivers Network, said that this conference is just the beginning of a long struggle in order to get their demands through and announces next steps to be taken: "There is a need for further awareness raising in society as such, but especially in the affected regions. Therefore, we are planning a road show in Baram where we will visit all affected communities. The goal is to create committees in all affected areas which in turn will become the organizational base for collective action against these mega-dams."
The indigenous representatives came from Batang Ai, Bakun, Bengoh, Murum, Baram, Balleh, Limbang, Lawas, Pelagus and Tutoh plus individuals from Miri, Bintulu and Kuching.
An international NGO coalition consisting of the Bruno Manser Fund (CH), International Rivers (US), Borneo Project (US), Rainforest Action Network (US) and the Rainforest Foundation Norway has expressed their support for the indigenous leaders' call to respect human rights and comply with international standards. Kirk Herbertson of International Rivers, who observed the conference, states: "What I have heard from the participants at the conference is worrying. Denial of the people's rights to information and consultation, as well as the lack of a proper evaluation of alternatives to dams in a public discussion contravenes international standards such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as well as Malaysian law."
Mr. Kallang further explained, "Affected people from areas where dams are currently under construction or being planned have demonstrated that the government is repeating its mistakes."
Statements made during the two and a half day conference indeed indicate the government's lack of capacity to realize its dam projects in a responsible manner. People representing the areas where dams have already been built, namely Batang Ai, Bakun and Bengoh, describe how the Sarawak government and project companies denied their rights to information and consultation, and how involuntary resettlement left them more impoverished than before. One participant from Bakun described, "The government made so many promises to us concerning free houses, free electricity, and free water. All these are just empty promises. We are still waiting for their implementation."
A representative from Upper Baram revealed, "We have never been informed or consulted by the government of its plan to build Baram dam."
From the perspective of the organizer, the SAVE Rivers Network, the conference was a big success as it presented a unique chance for exchange of views between communities who have no meaningful voice in their government, and as it allowed for building up the necessary synergies for a successful struggle against the maledict dams.
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