MAC: Mines and Communities

Malaysian forest peoples protest destructive dams at industry conference

Published by MAC on 2013-06-03
Source: Bruno Manser Fonds, The Borneo Project, International Rivers

Last month, over 300 indigenous persons from Sarawak protested against a series of controversial dams on the island of Borneo, at the opening of the International Hydropower Association's biannual conference.

Among their demands were that that "all native, customary rights be respected ... [and] that the government resolve all outstanding problems from Batang Ai, Bakun and Murum dams immediately..."

The Bakun and Murum dams in particular have a long and disgraceful history.

It's one in which state government corruption has played a major role, and in which  UK-Australian mega-miner Rio Tinto has been implicated.

For background, see: Sarawak: Bakun dam corruption probe raises questions about Rio Tinto's role

Indigenous Peoples protest destructive dams at industry conference in Malaysia

Media Release by Bruno Manser Fonds, The Borneo Project and International Rivers Network

22 May 2013

KUCHING, Sarawak, Malaysia - More than three hundred indigenous people of the Penan, the Kenyah, the Kayan, and Iban ethnic groups protested against a series of controversial dams on the island of Borneo this morning at the opening of the International Hydropower Association's (IHA) biannual conference.

These dams would affect tens of thousands of indigenous people and flood over 2000 square kilometers of rainforest. Dam builder Sarawak Energy has not made the environmental impact assessments public for any of the dams, despite persistent calls to do so from affected communities.

China Three Gorges Corporation began construction on the 944 MW Murum Dam in 2012 before its environmental impact assessment had even commenced, leaving affected communities with no option to negotiate resettlement outcomes.

"We call on the Sarawak government to stop building these dams as long as it continues to disrespect our rights," said Peter Kallang, chairman of SAVE-Rivers, a network representing affected indigenous peoples.

SAVE Rivers stated that it also demanded that Sarawak Energy and the Sarawak Government stop all work on mega dams in Sarawak; that all native, customary rights be respected in observance of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP); that the government resolve all outstanding problems from Batang Ai, Bakun and Murum dams immediately, that the International Hydropower Association suspend Sarawak Energy's membership in IHA; and that Mr. Torstein Dale Sjotveit be removed from the board of IHA until Sarawak state government and SEB clean up the mistakes they made in the past.

In a show of distrust and poor relations with affected communities earlier this week, Sarawak Energy barred Mr. Kallang from participating in a workshop organized by the IHA and the International Finance Corporation to discuss regional cooperation among stakeholders, despite Mr. Kallang having paid to do so. In a statement, SAVE Rivers decried the tactics as an example of civil society repression that some say characterizes this fledging democracy.

The Sarawak state government has been marred by allegations of corruption, as a recent undercover video filmed by Global Witness illustrated: Chief Minister of Sarawak Abdul Taib Mahmud, who was returned to power in a tense election in early May, has handed out large contracts to his family network.

Transparency International dubbed the recently completed Bakun Dam a "monument of corruption," and has criticized the IHA's choice to engage with Sarawak Energy.

The congress is the world's largest gathering of dam builders and financiers, who convene every two years to discuss industry topics. In 2011, the IHA launched a voluntary auditing tool for dam builders to assess their social and environmental performance, called the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol, or HSAP.

"While the HSAP may be useful to guide dam builders and governments on sustainability, there is a risk that dam builders could use it to greenwash the worst dams, especially given such a context of heavy-handed repression and corruption," said Zachary Hurwitz, Policy Program Coordinator at International Rivers.

The controversial dams would form the energy backbone of the Sarawak government's SCORE Initiative, a plan to rapidly industrialize the state primarily through the expansion of aluminum smelting facilities, palm oil plantations, and other commodity sectors.

For more information contact:
SAVE Rivers, International Rivers, The Borneo Project, Bruno Manser Fonds

Media Contacts:
Brihannala Morgan
Skype: brihannala
ph:+ 60 13 570 49 83


Liza Bong
Ph. +60 128860067

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