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Borneo Longhouse communities sue timber companies and government

By Melanie J. Martin - 09 Aug 2011 21:43:0 GMT
Borneo Longhouse communities sue timber companies and government

In Malaysian Borneo, 276 Iban families from 15 longhouses are suing timber companies and the government for pollution, trespassing and illegal logging on their land. On August 8, 300 members of the community gathered in court for the beginning of the trial, according to an article in the Borneo Post.

The Iban have a Native Customary Right (NCR) to the land, making them the rightful owners under the law, they assert. The lands are located in the small town and district of Simunjan, in the province of Sarawak in northern Borneo.

The communities are suing Quality Concrete and logging company Loyal Billion, along with the Director of Forests, the Sarawak state government, and two community leaders appointed by the government for executing and allowing illegal activities on Iban land, according to the Borneo Post article.

The companies' activities have polluted waters the Iban rely on for daily use, and destroyed crops, say the communities. They wish only for fair compensation, they say, as the companies' actions have damaged their food and water supply. The communities rely on farming, hunting, fishing and gathering water from local sources, and the companies' actions have impinged on all of these activities, community members say. The companies have also damaged older longhouse sites, they assert.

In March, Kuching High Court Judicial Commissioner Rhodzariah Bujang granted an injunction to halt logging activities until the conclusion of the case.

Communities in Malaysian and Indonesian Borneo frequently face intense pressures to give up their land to commercial interests like palm oil. Companies notoriously make promises they never fulfill, failing to pay communities or improve infrastructure as they promised, or refusing allow people back onto their land.

Sometimes they force people off their land outright, or encroach on it without permission. Frequently, the government sides with the companies because it profits from their activities. "This is theft, not development," surmises Adi Wahea Dayak, part of a community in eastern Indonesian Borneo, in an Earth Island article.

When the government fails to protect them, local groups have sometimes resorted to setting up roadblocks to keep companies off their ancestral lands.

The Iban are an ethnic group in the province of Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, that traditionally lives in longhouses consisting of up to 100 family apartments. Communities in their egalitarian society choose their leaders and follow adat, longstanding customs that maintain harmonious relationships between people.

Community members held a ceremony, led by 80-year-old Ason Bedili, before the trial commenced.

Top Image Credit: Iban Longhouse, Housing of the Iban Tribe of Sarawak Borneo © Bumihills