[Book Review] Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia

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‘Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia’ by Lukas Straumann is a controversial book that uncovers the modus operandi of a multi-billion timber industry accused of wiping out the ancient rainforests of Sarawak, home of the last nomadic tribes of Southeast Asia in the heart of Borneo, Malaysia.

It argues two major points: first, the violations of  indigenous people’s rights, including plunder of their source of subsistence; and second, fraud and deceit spawned into the global financial system perpetrated by logging barons.

Straumann calls for the prosecution of criminals who are responsible for the destruction of pristine rainforests, displacement of people, and death of indigenous cultures. It invites a course of action to salvage the remaining forests in Borneo. The book raises questions such as: Is here a hope and redemption for the indigenous people? What lies ahead in this ravaged wilderness? Is palm oil or 12 mega-dams the answer to bail out communities from poverty? What are the implications of this crime for the rest of humanity?

The book also questions the credibility of judicial systems, the police, the FBI, the United Nations’ agencies, Interpol, and other international watchdogs mandated to protect human rights, stop corruption, and to ensure environmental sustainability.

The Bruno Manser Fund (BMF), like other NGOs, works for social and environmental causes. BMF has exerted all means to seek justice for the rainforests, the Penans, and the victims of reprisal. However, Straumann is far from optimistic.

The book dissects the system of corruption and environmental crime that befell Sarawak. A model that examines the intricate details of its mechanism, it leads to the understanding of the system that spreads throughout Southeast Asia, Africa, South America, Australia, and beyond. It identifies who’s who in the business and the flow of bribe money, fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering.

Sarawak is the epicentre of environmental disaster with a trail of destruction intruding and expanding into Papua New Guinea, Guyana, Equatorial Guinea, Cambodia, and other territories. To know Sarawak is to know what happened in the other countries, perpetuated by the same logging companies.

Fingers are pointed at the Rolls Royce-driving prominent statesman Abdul Taib Mahmud: “The Most Honourable Chief Minister of Sarawak.” He rose to power in 1986 with the help of his uncle and ruled for three decades. While in office, he allegedly amassed assets totalling US$15 billion. He heads a business empire scattered all over the world and shared among family members. His real estate portfolio is scattered throughout Ottawa, San Francisco, Seattle, London, Adelaide, Hong Kong and Malaysia. He forged global connections with logging barons, financial kingpins, and corrupt politicians in countries where timber is ready for disposal.

The Timber Industry

The book unravels how the timber trade works with the same principles throughout Asia. Logging companies have to pay hefty bribes in exchange for logging concessions. This is especially true in less developed countries where corruption is rife. Bribe money also allows loggers to cut trees beyond agreed limits.

Straumann identifies the movement of timber from its origin to export destinations. Along with it is the flow of more bribe money to “grease” the export processes. Overseas, money is laundered via financial conduits and using various cronies as fronts.

Straumann names the major logging companies, the “Dirty 6” including Samling Group, Rimbunan Hijau, WTK Group, Ta Ann Group, KTS Group, and Shin Yang Group — all related to Taib’s clan and associates. Major markets include Japan, South Korea, China, and Taiwan, to name a few.

The forest of Sarawak alone is given to four logging companies, all involved in clearing 18 million hectares of forests around the world and transforming them into palm oil plantations.

Loggers operate in poor and vulnerable countries, while real estate and related businesses are invested in more developed countries.

In the book, Tasmania demonstrated its power to stop bulldozers from clearing the wilderness. An activist became a media sensation when she climbed a 60-meter-high eucalyptus tree which she named the “Observer Tree” and sat there for 449 days to deter the Ta Ann Group.

Taib probably cannot betray his Colombo Plan benefactor. He got his law degree from Adelaide University, a beneficiary of Australia’s post-war scholarship. He later made donations amounting to $7 million to the university’s Centre for Environmental Law and in return he was awarded an honorary doctorate. In 2008, a courtyard was named after him.

The Adelaide University Environmental Collective holds a rally to pressure the Vice Chancellor of the Uni to change the name of the Taib Mahmud courtyard. (Photo: Supplied)

The Adelaide University Environmental Collective holds a rally to pressure the Vice Chancellor of the Uni to change the name of the Taib Mahmud courtyard. (Photo: Supplied)

 

Brazilians were also up in arms against logging into the Amazon rainforest and, so far, they have succeeded driving out the timber mafia.

Other regions, however, are not as lucky as Tasmania or Brazil and they can be exploited anytime at Taib’s whim, the book suggests.

Bullying Tactics

Opposition to the logging brings repercussions. Ross Boyert, an insider who tipped off Straumann on the inside operation, faced the consequence of backflipping. Boyert filed a legal suit against Taib including breach of contract, fraud, and infringement of labor laws. Boyert also attempted to expose Taib’s properties overseas with proxy ownership among his kin. As a result, he was stalked, bullied, and psychologically tortured before he committed suicide.

Bruno Manser, the founder of BMF, is one of the most vocal activists that speak for the Penans. He explored Borneo and lived in the rainforests with the indigenous people. He has been on the watch list of Taib and was warned not to go back to Sarawak. He defied warnings, went back, and in 2000, he disappeared in the forest without a trace. In 2005, BMF officially announced he is presumed dead.

Penan activists were not spared. Harrison Ngua, for example, who was working for Sahabat Alam Malaysia, an environmental and human rights organization, was jailed for months while he was blindfolded and interrogated.

Hope for the Rainforest

The rainforest of Sarawak is one of the ancient rainforests explored by British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), a contemporary of Charles Darwin. It contains some of the most diverse flora and fauna on the planet.  It has been a home of the nomads for many generations —until the loggers came.

Straumann describes the helplessness of the Penans as they watched from the sidelines heavy machinery cleared the rainforests. The last “noble savages” of Southeast Asia were robbed in a broad daylight –  right before their eyes.

As of writing and publication of the book, Straumann has suggested the removal of Taib  from power. But even so, what is done cannot be undone.

It could be said that the logging industry does not monopolize environmental destruction, but Sarawak is symptomatic of a bigger issue of our time. The coal, seam gas, rare earths, and other resources industries have been drilling and extracting to satisfy insatiable greed for profits. The Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, the Arctic in the North Pole, and the Pacific Ocean’s bed are but few other examples where multinational companies are destroying the environment. Grassroots around the world are now standing in the gap to pressure governments and banking institutions to stop the madness once and for all.

James Lovelock came up with Gaia hypothesis, which posits that the planet is a  self-regulating entity with the capacity to keep itself healthy by controlling the interconnections of the chemical and physical environment. He likens the planet to a nurturing mother capable of renewal and regeneration. But with the scale, magnitude, and pace of destruction, scientists predict a bleak future. Humans have been destroying the planet’s life-support system beyond its capacity to regenerate.

Australia’s leading scientist, Tim Flannery, in his book ‘Here on Earth’ (2010), pleads a cause for planetary justice. He argues there is a new awakening of humanity that can give hope to the survival of the planet.  He suggests people need compassion and to care more than ever before.

Straumann, however, grapples for a solution. Perhaps, the motto of the White Rajahs for the original inhabitants of Borneo would somehow help: “Dum spiro spero (As long as I breath, I hope) — for what dies last is the hope for justice and a better future.”

The Malaysian government wanted this book banned. Taib already lodged a full probe into its allegations. Straumann, nonetheless, is unfazed.

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* Some of the opinions expressed in this article are the author’s

The print and Kindle editions of ‘Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia’ can be bought on Amazon.com

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Australian university urged to sever ties with Sarawak’s elite

More than 90 percent ancient rainforests has been destroyed in Sarawak.  (Photo: Matthias Klum National Geographic Creative)

More than 90 percent ancient rainforests has been destroyed in Sarawak. (Photo: Matthias Klum National Geographic Creative)

A top conservation group based in Tasmania is urging the University of Adelaide to dissociate itself from the ruling elite of Sarawak after a book exposed the corruption behind the destruction of tropical rainforests of Sarawak in the province of Borneo, Malaysia.

Details of the alleged crimes and the ruling elite’s link to government, financial institutions, and business tycoons are exposed in the book, Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia, written by human rights activist-environmentalist  Lukas Straumann, who is also executive director of the Swiss-based Bruno Manser Fund (BMF). Launched last year,  a copy has already been sent to the university’s vice-chancellor, Professor Warren Bebbington.

BMImg_150514_MoneyLogging

‘Money Logging’ investigates the corruption and the environmental destruction of Sarawak, the author explained. It provides details how the Taib family became billionaires during the 33-year rule of their family head as Chief Minister. The book also investigates how Sarawak Governor Abdul Taib Mahmud and his four children and his siblings amassed massive wealth. Taib is the ex-brother in law of current Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem.

The book claims that nearly 95 percent of Sarawak’s intact forest is already gone, prompting former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to describe it as, “probably the biggest environmental crime in our times.”

The Malaysian government tried to block the release of the book, according to BMF, especially during the 50th session of the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO) in Yokohama, Japan. The conservation group said the Malaysian delegation ordered the lock out BMF and thwarted publicity of the book in the conference foyer.  ITTO council chairman Rob Busnik confirmed the Malaysian delegation had orders “from the highest levels of government in Kuala Lumpur” to stop the presentation of the book.

Acres of palm tree plantation destroyed Sarawak's tropical rainforests. (Photo: National Geographic)

Acres of palm tree plantation destroyed Sarawak’s tropical rainforests. (Photo: National Geographic)

In Australia, the book alarmed Adelaide University which has a relationship with Taib’s group. Professor Bebbington said that the university had refused a request made by Taib to attend its 140th Anniversary Gala Dinner last year.

Jenny Weber, the Bob Brown Foundation’s campaign manager and long-time campaigner in solidarity with Sarawak’s indigenous peoples, called for swift action from Adelaide University’s Estates Committee to abandon association with Taib Mahmud.

Weber said  the university needs to sever its association with Taib Mahmud’s name off the university’s court, adding that Staumanns’ book has provided compelling evidence condemning Taib Mahmud’s ruling elite and their corrupt behaviour. Weber continued that the book is further proof that Taib Mahmud is not an individual that an Australian university should associate with.

The BMF is also calling on to the Australian politicians in the Federal and Tasmanian Parliaments to review relationships with Ta-Ann, a company mentioned in the book. According to Weber, the Australian government has provided public monies of AUS$50m to one of the six most evil logging companies named in Straumann’s book.

The university’s students group Say No To Taib Court at Adelaide University is joining the call to pressure the university to sever the association.

The BMF has long been one of the most vocal environmental groups that has been fighting against the destruction of Sarawak’s rainforest. Straumann said the research for the book started in 2010 but the book itself draws on his experience as BMF director for 10 years.

“Most information is from public records, such as company registries in Malaysia, Canada, the United States of America, Australia, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom. But I have also conducted a large number of interviews with indigenous representatives, lawyers, NGO campaigners, politicians and business people,” Straumann said in an interview.

Straumann said that most of the information in the book has already been provided to relevant authorities, but the book would give the readers a better understanding of what has been happening and continues to happen in Sarawak.

Link: The Green Journal/Asian Correspondent

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Abbott rallies leaders’ support on the phone

The G20 Summit 2014 will kick-off in Brisbane next week, Nov 15-16, to gather prominent leaders and players in the global economy. However, this summit, which will focus on economic growth, is sure to juxtapose not-so-pleasant scenes from the opponents of free market ideologies. The Brisbane local government is all set to deploy police force in various locations to ensure of peaceful demos. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been reported hitting the phone to rally leaders to support his G20 agenda–excluding climate change. Thanks to The Australian to have covered the phone calls. The Green Journal AU is re-blogging the article:

: David Crowe, Political Correspondent, Canberra

TONY Abbott is urging other G20 leaders to raise their ambitions for a summit in Brisbane next month to tackle the slowdown in world economic growth, using a series of phone calls with US President Barack Obama and others to set out an ambitious meeting agenda.

The Prime Minister spoke to Mr Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper yesterday and is due to speak to other G20 leaders in coming days to smooth the way for a reform pact that might one day add $2 trillion to the world economy.

His office said he spoke to Mr Obama for “around half an hour” yesterday on the terrorist threat in Iraq, the spread of Ebola and the G20 meeting. “The President thanked Australia for its efforts in Iraq and continued commitment to disrupting and degrading ISIL,” the Prime Minister’s office said in a statement.

“They agreed that the inter­national community needed to act swiftly to arrest the Ebola epidemic and the President thanked the Prime Minister for Australia’s contribution to date.”

Mr Abbott also spoke to Mr Harper yesterday to express Australia’s solidarity with Canada after a soldier was killed by a suspected jihadist in Quebec.

The conversations are part of a series of phone calls Mr Abbott is holding with his G20 counterparts to ensure a big economic agenda at the Brisbane summit, focused on a “Brisbane Action Plan” that commits to hundreds of reforms across the world’s 20 biggest economies.

Joe Hockey and his fellow G20 finance ministers have cleared the way for the agreement by proposing reforms that range from infrastructure investment to labour-market reform.

Italy has begun legislating new workplace laws that would make it easier for employers to hire and fire workers, for instance, while Germany is said to be preparing an infrastructure plan that could lift growth.

The International Monetary Fund and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development have examined the proposals and said they would add 1.8 per cent to world economic growth over the next five years if they were all implemented.

Mr Abbott is seeking further commitments to lift that figure to 2 per cent, the goal agreed by Mr Hockey and his counterparts at a meeting in Sydney in February.

Some doubts hang over the Brisbane summit on November 15 and 16, with the new Indonesian President Joko Widodo unsure about whether he will attend as he has yet to name his new ministry.

News Link: The Australian Got the link? Otherwise, you’ll come up with this:

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Bob Brown honours three outstanding greens

The Bob Brown Foundation honours three outstanding environmental defenders at the Third Annual Environment Awards at a ceremony in Hobart today.

The Environmentalist of the Year 2014 was awarded posthumously to Joseph Roe, a Goolarabooloo man from Broome, Western Australia, for his lifelong work to protect the environment and cultural sites of the Kimberley.

Joe Roe and Bob Brown (Photo: Supplied)

Joe Roe and Bob Brown (Photo: Supplied)

Roe is known for his lifelong fight for the Goolarabooloo people, including the march towards stopping Woodside Petroleum from wrecking his land from massive gas hub.

The award with a $4000 prize money was given to Joseph’s wife Margaret Cox and daughters Rekeesha and Kerstin Roe. Bob Brown said, “Remove ‘law boss’ Joe Roe of the Goolarabooloo people from history, and the massive gas factory planned by Woodside Petroleum for north of Broome would by now be wrecking the Kimberley coastline, including the world’s largest humpback whale nursery, the world’s largest dinosaur footprint and traditional burial and ceremonial sites.”

Brown confessed he was struck by the man’s integrity and defiance of the odds to save the country he loved.  “Roe defied the money, arrests, threats and compulsory acquisition of his people’s land for a higher goal: the integrity of Aboriginal culture and the Kimberley’s remarkably pristine environment. He died within months of gaining victory for his country but his fighting spirit remains to inspire everyone else faced with the destruction of country or neighbourhood.

The Young Environmentalist of the Year 2014 was awarded to Peter Hammarstedt, captain of the Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker.

Bob Barker Operation Relentless crew  portait ©Marianna Baldo / Sea Shepherd AU Ltd

Bob Barker Operation Relentless crew portait ©Marianna Baldo / Sea Shepherd AU Ltd

The award carries a $2000 prize money and was awarded via Skype, the foundation said.  Hammarstedt lives in Sweden and was unable to attend the event

Brown said Hammarstedt’s courage under extreme pressure from the Japanese whalers is commendable and legendary noting his feat to protect marine wildlife in the Antarctic two two ago.

Hammarstedt’s led the helm of the Sea Shepherd’s Bob Barker between two aggressive vessels: a Japanese whaling factory ship and a South Korean tanker in Antarctic waters two summers ago. “That heroic manoeuvre was crucial to saving the lives of hundreds of whales but was only part of Peter’s years of commitment to protecting Earth’s oceanic commons,” Brown said.

The Deni Greene Award 2014 was awarded to Alan Pears, of Brighton, Victoria.  Thes award, including $2000 prize money, is presented in honour of the late Deni Greene and recognizes an outstanding contribution by an environmentalist in their professional field of work.

Alan Pears

Alan Pears

“In addition to his outstanding ongoing professional and practical commitment to a more sustainable relationship between our human herd and this one life-giving planet, Alan was a great friend and fellow intellectual of Deni Greene’s. I know that she would be delighted that Alan is the 2014 recipient of the award honouring her own life’s work”, Brown said.

Awardees Profiles

Environmentalist of the Year – 2014
Joseph Roe

Joseph (Joe) Roe was born in Broome on 24 April 1966, the youngest of nine siblings.  He spent his childhood under the guidance of his grandfather, the late Paddy Roe at Jilburnon and Millibinyarri. Paddy taught Joseph about the importance of his law and culture, respect and protection of country.

As a teenager, Joseph attended Nulungu College in Broome, but realising school wasn’t for him, returned to live with his grandparents in the bush.

In 1983, Joseph met Margaret, they got married, and had two daughters: Rekeesha and Kerstin. They moved to Millibinyarri to live.

During this time, Joseph established the CDEP program and his whole family took part in improving their community.  Although very busy, Joseph would still find time to drive out to country to ensure no damage was being done to the environment and cultural sites.  He fought for many years to try and stop motor bikes and vehicles driving over the sand dunes, and installed bollards to prevent traffic destroying burial sites and the environment from Broome to Bindiangoon.

In 1988, his grandfather Paddy Roe, established the Lurujarri Walking Trail, to look after the country between Minyirr and Bindiangoon.  Since then, Joseph and his family have welcomed thousands of visitors, Australian and international, to walk, camp, fish and share traditional knowledge and stories along the way.

In the early 90’s, Joseph was involved with the Rubibi Native Title Claim for Broome and continued to work tirelessly to protect country.

In 2013, the community campaign led by Joseph and the Goolarabooloo people against the giant gas hub at Walmadan (James Price Point) finally prevailed, with the proponent, Woodside, withdrawing their plans.

Joseph died in 2014, aged 47 and is survived by his wife Margaret Cox and daughters Rekeesha Roe and Kerstin Roe.

Young Environmentalist of the Year – 2014
Peter Hammarstedt

Born in Sweden, Peter, 30, joined the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society as soon as he was old enough to submit an application. He works as the Director of Ship Operations for Sea Shepherd Global and is a Director on the Board of Sea Shepherd Global and Sea Shepherd Australia Limited. Peter has a background in Media and Communications from Stockholm University.

In his 11 years with Sea Shepherd, Peter has sailed the seven seas under the leadership of Captain Paul Watson, from the foreboding Labrador Coast to the treacherous Antarctic Continent, using direct action to save as many lives as possible from illegal whaling, sealing and destructive fishing practices.

Peter believes that in their capacity to suffer, animals are our equals, and that when a government fails in its responsibility to uphold the law, then it is the responsibility of compassionate people to fill the enforcement vacuum.

Peter has crewed on nine consecutive Antarctic Whale Defence Campaigns and for the past three years, Peter has been Master of the The Bob Barker.

On the 2012-13 Antarctic Whale Defense Campaign, The Bob Barker, under Peter’s command, was rammed on several occasions by the factory whaling ship Nisshin Maru. Sea Shepherd successfully prevented the whaler from refueling and the campaign succeeded in preventing the slaughter of 932 whales.

Deni Greene Award – 2014
Alan Pears

For more than 35 years, Alan Pears, 63, has been an inexhaustible champion of energy efficiency in Australia.
Originally a school teacher in the 1970s, Alan made the most of an opportunity to advance the cause of energy efficiency when he was appointed the head of the Melbourne Energy Efficiency Centre, run in the early 1980s by the Gas and Fuel Corporation.  When the Victorian Government took over the Centre, Alan moved into working for the government on energy efficiency policy and programs.  Since then, Alan has advised governments and the private sector throughout Australia, using his unique combination of detailed technical knowledge and deep research coupled with a highly effective ability to explain technical matters clearly and simply.  Alan’s enthusiasm for energy efficiency is contagious and he has inspired generations of university students, many of whom have also become energy efficiency champions.
His field of work, energy efficiency, was close to Deni Greene’s heart, as was his way of advancing the cause: through clear communication, provision of practical information, and the development of public policy based on solid foundations.
Whether through appliance energy labelling, building regulation or his many articles and publications, his work has touched people’s lives, empowering them to make better informed decisions that have direct benefits for the individual as well as raise the standard of energy efficiency overall.

Alan has been recognised over the years with numerous awards including a Centenary Medal in 2003 and a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2009.

See also: Asian Corrrespondent

 

 

1.2 million Malaysians send eviction notice to Lynas Corp

Australian-owned Lynas Corp cannot get away from its “socially unlicensed” operation in Kuantan, Malaysia, An eviction notice signed by 1.2 million Malaysians across the nation has been sent urging the company to shut down and leave the country immediately.

The signatories press the Australian company to respect local people’s basic human rights and dignity, and to do environmental justice.  They slammed the company for posing health and environmental hazards. Lynas’ operation involves toxic and radioactive rare earth, they said, and that they will fight to the end not to allow their children to be harmed or their land to be destroyed for profits.

Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon (left) and Natalie Lowrey (right) flash an eviction notice in Sydney. (Photo: Supplied)

Apart from health risks, they claim the operation is illegal, if not anomalous, for not having a proper licence. They said the business took off without a detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) put in place and not complying with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recommendations. The signatories also pointed out the project lacks long-term plan for the permanent waste disposal of radioactive waste.

Sydney-based environmental activist Natalie Lowrey was released on June 30 after six days in detention. She was arrested along with 16 other Malaysians for joining a peaceful protest. She is back home and held a press conference with Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon at the Lynas headquarter located along Pitt Street.

In a statement, she thanked supporters of her release, including hundreds that joined vigils across the country, the 34 Malaysian non-governmental organisations (NGO), and other various groups and individuals.

She also appreciated the support of international colleagues and friends, especially Friends of the Earth International and Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific for their quick response in getting a petition going and networking across member groups across the world.

Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon (right) joins the press conference with environmental activists at the Lynas office in Sydney. (Photo: Supplied)

Lowrey said she has no regrets for her act of solidarity with Malaysian people. She also urged all Australian citizens and residents to take responsibility to hold Australian corporations accountable for the impacts of their developments and operations in other countries. She added:

As an international community we must start considering the impacts of rare earth refining and look at worlds-best-practice to contain and deal with the waste and move towards alternatives including urban mining and the recycling of rare earths, especially that rare earths are used in so many green technologies.

The Save Malaysia Stop Lynas activist group has also urged the Malaysian Government earlier not to extend Lynas licence which is due to expire in September this year. The group lamented and claimed Lynas has failed to disclose to the public the identification of the site for the Permanent Deposit Facility (PDF) for its radioactive Water Leach Purification (WLP) waste as required under the terms of its Temporary Operating License (TOL).

As early as 2012, the issue of radioactive waste storage disposal has never been resolved. It was suggested that wastes have to be shipped back to Australia.

However, even the former Western Australian Minister for Mines and Petroleum, Norman Moore, asserted at that time that “Australia does not support the importation and storage of other countries’ radioactive waste”. He passed on the responsibility to the Malaysian government to take care of the processing plant that is operating in its territory.

Rhiannon reiterated what Lowry had said that the Australian company has no right to destroy the home of Malaysians or to endanger their health and well-being. She also called for the immediate pullout of the company from Malaysia.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent/The Green Journal

Murum dam protesters seek Malaysian diplomats to help

This is an ongoing development in Sarawak, Malaysia. – Ed.

Malaysian diplomats stationed worldwide are now sought to intervene in the controversial Murum Hydroelectric Project, one of the 12 mega-dams undertaken by the Sawawak Energy Berhad.

Indigenous people around the said river are getting desperate day by day to save their land and property, but there seems to be no aid in sight to ease their suffering. They have explored all means to get the attention of the government and local media, but not enough.

Last week, a group of about 27 international NGOs and activist organizations joined forces in an attempt to help. The office of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Rzak has remained silent despite a letter calling for his intervention. In a letter dated November 11,  the NGOs have written the prime minister expressing concern over the situation of Indigenous Penan women, men, and children who are peacefully protesting at the site of the Murum hydro power project.

The NGOs are now set to  deliver a  signature campaign against the maltreatment of indigenous Penan protestors in the Murum Dam. The campaign containing complaint against harassment, intimidation, and violation of human rights will be sent to Malaysian embassies worldwide on November 25.

Led by the Borneo Project, International Rivers, Bruno Manser Foundation, and SAVE Rivers, the complaint is part of the effort to get the direct attention of Malaysian consulates asking to intercede and to stop the ”maltreatment, abuse and disrespect of indigenous communities” protesting against the construction of the dam. According to the Bruno Manser Fonds, the indigenous groups are asking for the withdrawal of police and to allow human rights observers as well as lawyers to access the area.

The protesters have been cordoned off by a barricade of armed police since November 5, the letter added. Lawyers, human rights groups, medics, media personnel and convoys carrying basic supplies of food and water for distribution all have reported that their access to the site has been blocked.

Information regarding the health and wellbeing of families inside the security perimeter is nearly impossible, according to Borneo Project. This raises concern over the conditions of those who are vulnerable, including younger children and the elderly.

Intimidation, threat, arrest, detention and criminalization of members of the Penan families seeking justice against forced displacement are clear violation of  the rights with respect to freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, the groups said.

The list of NGOs provided by Borneo Project:

  • Accountability Project, International
  • Accountability Counsel, International
  • Human Rights Watch, International
  • Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self Determination and Liberation, International
  • Green Advocates, International
  • International Rivers, International
  • Asian Indigenous Peoples’ Pact, Asian Region
  • NGO Forum on the ADB, Asian Region
  • Pesticide Action Network-Asia Pacific, Asian Region
  • Borneo Resources Institute (BRIMAS), Malaysia
  • Jaringan Orang Asal Semalaysia (JOAS), Malaysia
  • The Sarawak Native Customary Land Rights Network (TAHABAS), Malaysia
  • Malaysian Damn the Dams Action Group, Malaysia
  • Pacos Trust, Malaysia
  • SAVE Rivers, Malaysia
  • Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
  • Malaysia Tenaganita, Malaysia
  • Association for International Water Studies (FIVAS), Norway
  • Borneo Project, USA
  • Bruno Manser Foundation, Switzerland
  • Burma Partnership, Burma/Myanmar
  • Cordillera Peoples Alliance, Philippines
  • Huon Valley Environment Centre, Tasmania
  • Korean House for International Solidarity (KHIS), Korea
  • Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens [Movement of Dam Affected People]
  • Brazil Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, Pakistan
  • Plataforma Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, Democracia y Desarrollo
  • Ecuador Shwe Gas Movement, Burma/Myanmar
  • Sierra Leone Network on the Right to Food, Sierra Leone

Blog Link: The Green Journal at Asian Correspondent

Malaysia: Petitions to stop mega-dams fall on deaf ears

The construction of 12 multi-billion dollar dams in Sarawak looks to be going ahead despite petitions lodged by indigenous people to the Malaysian government. Now the case is calling the attention of the United Nations to look into violations of indigenous people’s rights.

Two road blockades have been erected in a desperate effort to stop trucks and machineries that are building the 1,200 MW Baram Dam. One blockade was erected near Long Lama, on the shores of the Baram River, with a second blockade near the proposed dam site, according to NGOs monitoring developments.

The blockades aim to show resistance to the dams and to pressure the Malaysian government to stop the destruction of local communities ahead of a UN meeting in Geneva where the Human Rights Council will discuss Malaysia’s human rights records.

Anti-dam protestors at IHA 2013 Congress held earlier this year. (Photo: Supplied)

The Baram Dam is the fourth of 12 dams that will displace up to 20,000 people and submerge a rainforest area of over 400 km sq.

Peter Kallang, spokesperson for Sarawak’s SAVE Rivers Network, said it is unacceptable that any work should commence before an Environmental Impact Analysis (EIA) has been carried out.

Indigenous communities including Kayan, Kenyah and Penan are also calling on all employees of Sarawak Energy and its contractors to halt work for the planned dam. The communities have installed camps near the blockades with the intention of staying indefinitely to protect their rights and their ancestral lands.

Indigenous families who were forced to leave their longhouses in Murum found out that there is no replacement housing provided as promised.

Protestors against the dams. (Photo: SAVE Rivers)

The Bruno Manser Funds earlier said the construction of the Murum dam would not have been possible without support from Western engineers and managers including Hydro Tasmania, a state-owned Australian power supplier which provides technical advice on dam construction.

Apart from the petitions sent to the Malaysian government, the BMF has also organized an online petition to build international pressure against Sarawak‘s Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud and his plans “to flood the rainforest and to displace indigenous people.”

The online e-petition will be sent to the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, to the Sarawak state government, and to Sarawak Energy Berhad and RECODA (Regional Corridor Development Authority), the executing agencies.

The BMF has asked the prime minister to intervene in the Murum Dam where impoundment started to displace people last month but, so far, the petition has been ignored. Related article here.

Blog Link: The Green Journal at Asian Correspondent

Malaysian PM urged to intervene amid Sarawak dam tension

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has been asked to intervene in the escalating tension surrounding the Murum dam project in Sarawak.

A police squad was dispatched to the dam site to confront the barricade opposing Sarawak Energy Berhad’s (SEB) hydro energy project.

A police officer fires his gun in the air at the Murum dam blockade site. (Photo: Supplied)

About 30 police officers reportedly bullied 300 protestors on Thursday. Ngang Buling, chairman of the Peleiran Murum Penan Affairs Committee was arrested and brought to the Belaga Police Station for questioning in relation to his involvement in the blockade. A police officer fired a shot in the air to disperse the protesters, sources said. Following the arrest of Ngang, the protesters also asked the police to arrest them. Some of the villagers chased the police vehicle carrying Ngang who is to be held at the station for four days.  SAVE Rivers is reported to be dispatching a human rights lawyer to take care of the case.

On Friday, Buling was released on bail but will face court next month on criminal trespass charge, local media reports.

Protesters marched to the dam site following the impoundment of the dam which started on September 22. According to anti-dam NGOs who contacted Asian Correspondent, residents were not given notice while resettlement agreements have not been put in place.

Earlier, representatives from the Penan community affected by the dam went to Miri to lodge a police report against SEB and the Sarawak State Government for impounding the dam without giving them notice.

Penan people’s representatives at a local police station. (Photo: Supplied)

Community spokesperson Lugan Usang from Long Tangau said in a press statement that the safety and livelihood of his people are at risk. Above the Murum dam, there are still many Penan and Kenyah communities that have yet to move and are still living at their respective villages of Long Luar, Long Tangau, Long Menapa, Long Singu, Long Malim, Long Wat and Long Umpa.

Houses, livestock, farms, fruit trees, and other livelihood are said to be at risk without notice of compensation from Sarawak Energy or from the Sarawak government. If destroyed, there would not be any evidence to claim compensation, Lugan said. The spokesperson also pointed out that the Penans and Kenyahs are not ready to move because the resettlement site at Metalon has yet to be completed.

“The crops and fruit trees which were promised to us by the government to sustain our livelihood have yet to be planted…. The same goes for the school and the clinic, it is not built yet. How are we going to live at Metalon?” Lugan asked.

SEB confirmed  communities directly affected by the proposed Murum Dam Project consists of 353 households with 1,415 people (as of August 2011) comprised of 335 Penan households with 1,304 Penan and 18 Kenyah Badeng households with 113 Kenyah.

The site of the Murum hydro power dam. (Photo: Supplied)

Penans chase SEB CEO  Sjotveit

The Penans chased Torstein Dale Sjotveit, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of SEB out from the dam site for failing to meet the demands of the Penans and Kenyah communities.

The Penans accused Sjotveit of being arrogant with no interest at all in negotiation. They said he wanted the blockade to be dismantled and the protesters driven from the area. The Penans chased him out of the site instead, which forced the police to intervene and to take Sjotveit away to a secure location.

Resettlement solutions

SEB has released a 168-page Resettlement Action Plan (RAP) document containing compensation policy by the government. The properties eligible for compensation include longhouses, crops including fruit trees, grave yards, community halls and churches, as well as land.

Most of the key elements of the compensation package were approved by the government in February 2011 and communicated to the affected people, according to the energy company, although local communities say there was no public consultation.

Residents are left on the sidelines while they watch incoming trucks to the dam site. (Photo: Supplied)

However, the Sarawak Report detailed a dark side of the plan which is tantamount to “ethnic genocide“.

A clandestine copy of the RAP reportedly shows that the proposals do not represent any “fair compensation for the displaced hunter-gatherer communities who have lived in the Murum territories for generations and who have lost their jungles and livelihoods to logging, oil palm and soon floodwaters”.

Furthermore, the proposed level of compensation consists of a monthly allowance which falls far below poverty levels even in Sarawak. “State assistance of just RM500 per family (US$157) will run out after just 4 years,” the report said.

Alternative media also reported the hidden details of the RAP which ”tell the shocking truth about the lives of the Penan and their total neglect by the government that plans to wipe out the land which has been their home and provided their livelihood for generations.”

The Penan protesters are urging the prime minister to intervene and to immediately stop the impoundment and displacement of people.

Blog LInk: The Green Journal/Asian Correspondent

Greens, Wikileaks condemn Manning verdict

The Australian Greens and the Wikileaks Party issued today separate statements condemning the conviction of Bradley Manning, US Private First Class, on 20 charges getting him a sentence of 136 years in jail.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam at the Parliament House in Canberra. (Photo: Australian Greens)

The US court finds Manning guilty of seven out of eight espionage charges, five theft charges, two computer fraud charges, five military counts of violating a lawful general regulation, and one of wanton publication of intelligence on the internet.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam slammed the verdict saying the ruling sets a dangerous precedent for whistleblowers and a free press not only the US but globally. He said the trial has not been fair with many closed sessions and with key documents withheld from Manning.

Bradley Manning, US Private First Class (Photo:Supplied)

The Obama Administration produced 80 witnesses against 10 on Manning’s defence team although he wanted to call on 48 witnesses.

The Greens Senator said Manning has embarrassed US officials for the insecurity of their information systems, for routine and cavalier violations of the Geneva Conventions revealed in the Afghanistan War Logs and Iraq files, and the hubris and poor taste of diplomats revealed through Cablegate. He said this is not damage but “a public service.”

“We are all in Bradley Manning’s debt. He saw wrongs and did not turn away. With his decision to become a whistleblower, he presented some brutal and haunting truths about wars involving Australia which cannot and will not be locked away.

“His trial and treatment now exposes the lack of transparency and accountability we strive for in democracies and the vulnerability of journalists and publishers who are clearly not free to scrutinise powerful institutions as they should.” Senator Ludlam concluded.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaks at the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. (Photo: News Ltd)

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange also criticised the unfair treatment of the case. Speaking from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. Assange said Manning’s conviction represents “a dangerous national security extremism”.

“Bradley Manning isn’t guilty of anything in that he’s actually very heroic for demanding government transparency and accountability and exposing the American people and the rest of the world to the crimes committed by the American government,” Assange said.

Meanwhile, the Wikileaks Party released a public statement: The Conviction of Bradley Manning and the Implications for Wikileaks Party Senate Candidate Julian Assange

This is a Statement by WikiLeaks Party Senate Candidates Kellie Tranter (NSW), Gerry Georgatos (WA ) and Leslie Cannold (VIC)

The conviction of Private Bradley Manning at his Pentagon driven trial is the clearest warning of the fate awaiting WikiLeaks founder and WikiLeaks Party Victorian Senate candidate Julian Assange, if he is extradited to the United States.

Foreign Minister Bob Carr should also admit that his statements about Mr Assange not being of interest to the US are palpably false. Julian Assange would face a Grand Jury indictment alleging espionage, treason, and terrorism and face a life sentence locked up in a US jail.

Twenty-five-year-old Manning’s trial made a mockery of the lawful justice system although even it did not agree with the overzealous prosecutorial claim that Manning had ‘aided the enemy’. The media was kept at a distance and under constant surveillance. In the closing days an armed police team patrolled the media centre and searched reporters using hand-held metal detectors.  One striking feature of the prosecutors’ case was that Julian Assange and WikiLeaks were the main game in the prosecution of Private Manning.

In evidence and post-trial submissions, prosecutors alleged that Julian Assange was the chief culprit, instigator and distributor of the classified war logs, cables and film footage from US war operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Bradley Manning case proves that Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr is lying when he claims repeatedly that Assange is not in any legal danger from US authorities. When Mr Carr says that Washington does not want to extradite Assange from Europe, this is clearly not the case.

Carr, a former journalist with The Bulletin, is a member of the Media and Entertainment Alliance, which is committed to defending Julian Assange’s legal and human rights.

As a union member and a lifelong ALP member, he should be demanding that Washington ends its protracted war against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and give an assurance that he is able to travel abroad without fear of arrest and extradition.

Senator Carr, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the Australian Government cannot allow Assange to be treated in the same cruel fashion as Bradley Manning – solitary confinement, torture and a cowboy court process.

Julian Assange and WikiLeaks Party candidates will contest Senate seats in Victoria, NSW, and WA at the forthcoming federal election.

Manus, S Pacific – the new “promised land” for refugees

The new Kevin Rudd’s Government has not only sealed the deal with Papua New Guinea to be the recipient of incoming boat people, but it is also considering South Pacific countries who are signatories of the UN convention on refugees, including New Zealand, Samoa, Christmas Island, and the Philippines.

Re-blogging Friday’s post:

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has come up with his own Papua New Guinea Solution to deal with boat arrivals containing people seeking asylum in Australia. In doing so he has scrapped predecessor Julia Gillard’s Pacific Solution Mark II and embarked on a bold move towards border protection while still operating within the parameters of the UN refugee convention.

Rudd sealed the deal with his counterpart, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, in Queensland on Friday in a mutually beneficial pact: PNG will take in asylum seekers in exchange for a wide range of economic and social benefits, including funding assistance for education and health reforms, as well as security. The pact is reported to cost billions of dollars.

PNG will be the asylum seekers’ processing hub and refugees will be resettled in PNG. They will not be reverted back to Australia.

“Asylum seekers who are determined to be genuine refugees will therefore have a country of settlement, namely Papua New Guinea,” Rudd announced.

Rudd also projected a positive economic outlook for PNG as a result of the deal, although local people are reported to be pessimistic on the impact of overcrowding and severe “culture shock.”

Can this tiny island (red spot) accommodate all displaced people trying to arrive in Australia?

Located in the north, Manus Island is the smallest province in PNG with an area of 2,100 square kilometres. As of a 2011 Census, it had a population of 50,321.

Rudd said the new pact would set ”no limit” to the number of people who will now be diverted to PNG, ignoring the fact that it is estimated that more than 15,000 asylum seekers have sought to arrive in Australia in the first six months of 2013.

Detention centres in Manus have been criticised for their poor living conditions. About 215 people live there in makeshift shelters and tents. The expansion of facilities on Manus Island is underway, including a 600-bed facility due for completion in January 2014. Manus Island can only accommodate a maximum of 3,000 people.