Indigenous Rights

In Sarawak the indigenous population is about 48% of the total population of the state. They are divided into numerous distinct ethnic groups with different social structure and mores, but all share a culture at whose base is land. Land supplies not just food and resources; it is the spiritual home of the community.

Although the dams are being built on native land, 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, and adequate farmland, these promises are often broken.


Bakun Dam Resettlement Disaster

In 1998 the government of Sarawak relocated about 10,000 people to Sungai Asap to make way for the Bakun Dam. Over one decade after resettlement, the people displaced by the project are still struggling to eke out a living. The government required resettled communities to pay for their own housing, which forced many families into debt. Communities that had been able to catch fish in the river, hunt, and gather forest products no longer have access to forests, and pollution from the dam has decimated fish stocks. Each family was promised 10 acres of farmland but was only provided 3 acres, often a half-day’s journey away, and often on infertile, rocky, and sandy land. This has not been enough to sustain a living. As the children of resettled families grow up, there has not been enough land available for them to start their own families. In short, resettlement has devastated the communities.


Indigenous Rights Violations in Baram Dam Preparation

A fact finding mission led by SAVE Rivers found significant human rights violations concerning resettlement for the Baram Dam. Based on detailed interviews in 14 villages along the Baram, the report shows how indigenous communities have been denied information, withheld from participation in studies and decision-making, coerced into accepting the dam through threats and intimidation, and thus denied their rights to their lands and territories, self-determination and to Free, Prior and Informed Consent. Read the report, “No Consent to Proceed,” here.

Learn more about indigenous rights globally through Forest Peoples Programme.

Watch Global Witness’s film Inside Malaysia’s Shadow State, and see exactly how politicians and their cronies by-pass Malaysian law to sell off Sarawak’s land and take away indigenous land rights.

Learn more about organizations fighting for indigenous rights in Malaysia through the indigenous people’s network of Malaysia, Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS).

Read about Sungai Asap in Al Jazeera, and cultural implications of displacement in The Ecologist.