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Indigenous Communities Threatened With Legal Action By Logging Giant As Floods Devastate Sarawak

in Long Tungang_2021-05-27

One of
Malaysia’s largest timber conglomerates is threatening to
silence civil society with legal action. Meanwhile, the
current floods impressively demonstrate the environmental
costs of deforestation.

MALAYSIA) As communities in the north of Sarawak are
recovering from devastating floods, some of them have also
been dealt another blow: legal threats from logging giant
Samling. For over a year, Kenyah and Penan communities of
the Baram and Limbang rivers have been calling for proper
consultations and transparency regarding the Gerenai and
Ravenscourt logging concessions, run by subsidiaries of
Malaysian timber giant Samling. Instead of fulfilling
community requests, the company has instead threatened them
with legal action.

According to William Tinggang of
Long Moh, one of the communities affected by the threatening
letters issued by Samling subsidiaries, “the letters
appear to be a blatant attempt to silence communities and
human rights defenders voicing concerns about faulty and
inadequate certification procedures.”

Both of the
involved concessions have been certified under the Malaysian
Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS), whose role is to provide
“independent assessment for forest management and chain of
custody certification to ensure the sustainable
management” of forests, including proper consultation with
local communities. In practice, however, communities
highlight what seem to be grievous discrepancies between the
process of obtaining certification and actual practices on
the ground.

The communities who have received the
threatening letters from Samling have also lodged official
complaints with the Malaysian Timber Council. “Samling
seems to be concerned only about one thing: profiting from
extraction. If they were remotely concerned with following
procedure or obtaining the free prior and informed consent
of communities, they would try to arrange for proper
consultations instead of sending us threatening letters when
we voice our concerns.” said Suya Ara, Assistant Headman
of Long Ajeng, one of the Penan communities affected by
Samling’s legal threats.

These threats come at a
time when villages in Sarawak are reeling from the
devastating impacts of abnormal flooding for the second time
in a year: “we’re suffering from floods and from COVID
right now, and they are threatening legal pressure on top of
all of this. They need to take responsibility for their role
in all of this,” said Penan leader Komeok Joe, CEO of
KERUAN, a Penan support group.

While it has long been
understood that deforestation exacerbates both flooding and
drought, logging in Sarawak continues largely unabated, at
the expense of remote communities that rely on forest
resources for their survival. Remote Indigenous communities
are now left dealing with legal threats while they start the
cleanup and rebuilding process once again.

The Bruno
Manser Fund and The Borneo Project condemn Samling’s legal
threats against civil society and ask for reconsideration of
the multinational’s logging concessions on the
communities’ land. Lukas Straumann, Executive Director of
the Bruno Manser Fund noted: “logging should only take
place with the free, prior and informed consent of local
people. Communities must be able to voice their concerns
without fearing legal consequences. As long as the freedom
of expression is not guaranteed, there can be no talk of
sustainable logging and certificates must be

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