Climate champ Leonardo DiCaprio mired in Malaysian 1MDB scandal

Leonardo DiCaprio receives his Best Actor Oscar Award 2016 for his lead role in the Revenant.

Leonardo DiCaprio receives his Best Actor Oscar Award 2016 for his lead role in the Revenant.

Lately, his foundation made headlines announcing US$15.6 million in grants that have been awarded for various causes including wildlife and habitat conservation, indigenous rights, climate change and solving complex environmental issues.

Grant receivers and partners are happy… but not everyone.

The Swiss-based Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) suspects the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF) has received bribe money from Malaysians who are connected to the high-profile 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) corruption scandal, namely Riza Aziz, Low Taek Jho (“Jho Low”), Tan Kim Loong and Riza Aziz’s film production company, Red Granite Pictures.

Leonardo DiCaprio leads the role in the Revenant.

Leonardo DiCaprio leads the role in the Revenant.

The BMF has already written Swiss bank Julius Baer, the main bank linked to DiCaprio’s foundation and asked to provide information on their due diligence when it comes to the acceptance of donations from Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) from Malaysia.

The bank responded it expects the LDF to conduct due diligence and prevent damage to its charitable goals.  The bank subtly distanced itself from donations the foundation had received from individuals connected to the 1MDB corruption scandal. DiCaprio, however, is yet to answer questions.

Citing legal reasons, Julius Baer’s Co-Head of Marketing, Marco Perroni, said he couldn’t disclose if the bank managed accounts on behalf of the LDF. However, he stated that all transactions handled by the bank were carefully examined and that it also expected its partners to accept and handle donations with due care.

The Julius Baer Group supports charitable goals via the Julius Baer Foundation and via partner organizations.

“In case of problems, we discuss appropriate measures with our partners in order not to affect or damage the charitable goals and the beneficiaries. Naturally, we also expect from our partners to conduct due diligence and take measures. […]”

We can assure you that transactions and financial flows handled by our bank are generally subject to scrutiny with respect to their origin and use and that, in case of suspicion, reports would be made to the authorities in charge.

Last month, the BMF wrote to DiCaprio, calling for transparency on his financial ties with Riza Aziz, the stepson of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, and Jho Low, a key person behind the US$3.5 billion 1MDB scandal.

najib razak waving

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak. Pic: AP.

The BMF said it recognizes the LDF’s important role in supporting rainforest protection and indigenous rights.

However, the organization also said DiCaprio and his foundation should never have accepted funds that proceed from corruption in Malaysia.

“Our long-term experience in Malaysian Borneo, as outlined in the book Money Logging, has shown that corruption has become of of the main drivers of rainforest destruction in South East Asia,”the BMF added.

The call for transparency has been taken up by numerous media around the world, including The Hollywood Reporter, The Guardian, Fox News, CBS News, El Pais, La Repubblica, Milliyet and others.French TV station TF1 broadcast a special eight-minute piece during its 50 minutes inside Saturday night prime time show.

The BMF has called on DiCaprio and his foundation to disclose their full financial relationship with all Malaysians connected to the 1MDB corruption scandal and to pay back all the money to the Malaysian people.

The suspicion, if true, could mar the integrity of the actor’s foundation and his advocacy.

The Guardian noted DiCaprio has joined high-caliber personalities in the fight to address climate change and various global issues.

[He became] a fixture at events focused on global challenges since 2014, dropping in at the Davos economic forum to pick up an award last January, and holding a private chat on the sidelines with Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations secretary general, on the sidelines of the Paris climate negotiations last December.

DiCaprio joined the climate march alongisde 400,000 through the streets of Manhattan and was named as a UN climate change ambassador in 2014 where he delivered an address at the UN climate summit.

He has had private tutorials in climate science from some of the world’s best researchers including Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State University.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Penn University Scientist Michael Mann.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Penn University Scientist Michael Mann.

DiCaprio’s transformation as a climate champion began with his meeting with then vice-president Al Gore at the White House in 1998. DiCaprio, who has cited that meeting as the beginning of his climate activism, set up his foundation that same year.

This year, the LDF announces through its website the foundation’s largest-ever portfolio of environmental grants, increasing the organization’s total direct financial giving to over $59 million since 1998. Additionally, after a period of increased grantmaking and a goal of expanding its global impact, the foundation warmly welcomes veteran environmental leader Terry Tamminen as CEO.

US$15.6 million in grants have been awarded to the foundation’s partners.

The grants support works which range from major environmental conservation organizations to local partners who are fighting to protect and defend vital ecosystems and species that are gravely impacted by the global environmental crisis caused by climate change.

Follow @DGreenJournal

Australian Senate investigates Malaysian money-laundering

Here’s a development of what has been going on in Adelaide in connection to the bribe allegations involving the former chef minister of Sarawak at Adelaide University. The Taib Mahmud Court has been defaced and renamed as Columbo Plan Alumni Court. Read story: Adelaide University renames campus plaza honoring controversial Sarawak Governor Taib Mahmud

Taib-Mahmud2

——————————————–

Amid graft and corruption scandal in Malaysia involving Prime Minister Najib Razak,
green groups seized the moment to submit a Senate inquiry that will look into foreign bribery and money-laundering allegations against Sarawak Governor Abdul Taib Mahmud’s family.

Former Sarawak Governor Taib Mahmud is mired in bribe alegations involding his ties with a uni in Adelaide, South Australia. scandal

Sarawak Governor Taib Mahmud is mired in bribe allegations involving his ties with a uni in Adelaide.

An Australian Senate inquiry into foreign bribery will look into money-laundering allegations against the family of Abdul Taib Mahmud Sarawak, the current Governor and former Chief Minister of the Malaysian state of Sarawak.

Earlier this month, the Australian Senate Economics References Committee acknowledged receipt of a joint submission by the Swiss Bruno Manser Fund and the Australian Bob Brown Foundation that highlights the Taib family’s multi-million dollar real estate transactions in Australia and calls for tighter rules against money-laundering in the Australian real estate sector.

The submission calls for all Taib family assets held in Australia to be frozen and restituted to Sarawak. While the submission names 33 Australian companies with links to the Taib family, particular attention is given to the $55 million Adelaide Hilton hotel held by the Taibs on the South Australian capital’s Victoria Square.

The submission and its attachments, two NGO reports on Taib corruption, are protected by parliamentary privilege following their release on the Senate Committee’s website. “This means that you cannot be prosecuted or disadvantaged because of anything you have provided in evidence, or because you gave such evidence”, the Committee Secretary stated.

The Bruno Manser Fund welcomes the Australian Senate’s move and calls on Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem and the Malaysian authorities to support the tracing and recovery of assets stolen by the Taib family. It is currently unclear how today’s dissolution of the Australian Parliament ahead of the 2 July election will reflect on the Senate inquiry.

Links:

Australian Senate inquiry into foreign bribery:

Terms of Reference:
http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Economics/Foreign_Bribery/Terms_of_Reference

Submissions:
http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Economics/Foreign_Bribery/Submissions

TPP irreconcilable with UN sustainable development goals, say critics

Trade Ministers agreed on TPP. (Photo: Supplied)

Trade Ministers agreed on TPP Monday. (Photo: Supplied)

Last week, leaders from around the world announced their commitment to implement the UN Sustainable Development Goals which outlined the solutions to address global climate change, environmental degradation, poor health, and poverty. In juxtaposition to this historic announcement, trade ministers from 12 countries reached an agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Monday which sets the economic rules for 40 percent of the world economy in Atlanta, Georgia.

The historic pact was signed by Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam.

Australian Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb said in a statement that the TPP will drive Australia’s integration in a region that underpins Australia’s prosperity.  The deal cemented Australia’s successes in concluding trade agreements with China, Japan and Korea, and other partners in the region.

The TPP will eliminate over 98 percent of tariffs among signatories and removes import taxes at around AUS$9 billion of Australian trade. Robb said one third of Australia’s total goods and services exports – worth $109 billion – were sent to TPP countries last year.

However, fierce opposition against the deal is expected. Australia’s Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, for one, opposes the provisions of the pact, including TPP’s investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) systems which allows a foreign tribunal to intervene with domestic policies.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) International blasted the agreement, saying several of the UN sustainability goals are irreconcilable with the TPP. There are 17 goals and 169 specific targets.

Sam Cossar-Gilbert, FoE international economic justice coordinator, said: “This is a sad day for our planet, as the TPP favours safeguards for corporate investments over safeguards for nature.  The TPP chapters on technical barriers to trade will threaten regulators’ capacities to effectively regulate the roughly 85,000 chemicals in commerce needed to protect human health and our environment.”

Renowned scholars and economists Joseph E. Stiglitz and Adam S. Hersh warned the TPP is a charade. It is not about “free trade” but rather “an agreement to manage its members’ trade and investment relations – and to do so on behalf of each country’s most powerful business lobbies.”

Make no mistake: It is evident from the main outstanding issues, over which negotiators are still haggling, that the TPP is not about “free” trade.

The TPP is claimed to be shrouded in secrecy. They said it is protected under the ISDS systems which allow foreign investors gain new rights to sue national governments in binding private arbitration for regulations they see as diminishing the expected profitability of their investments.

Stiglitz and Hersh said that such provisions make it hard for governments to conduct their basic functions including protecting their citizens’ health and safety, ensuring economic stability, and safeguarding the environment.

In Australia, Philip Morris International is already prosecuting the government in a $50 million legal suit before a tribunal in Singapore for its plain cigarette packaging.

TPP protest in New Zealand (Photo: Wikipedia)

TPP protest in New Zealand (Photo: Wikipedia)

FoE said, “Even very simple consumer sustainability measures like efficiency rating and food labelling on imported goods could be impossible under TPP, because labelling regulation can be deemed a barrier to trade. ”

The TPP faces a number of challenges prior to its ratification as protests and rallies are expected to be held worldwide. In the U.S., it faces a hostile Congress while it is an election issue in Canada. There is also a court action in Japan and a widespread opposition in Australia .

FoE warned the TPP will threaten people and the planet, if ratified.

Blog Link/ Follow @DGreenJournal

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

Image via Amazon.

‘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.

Follow @DGreenJournal

* 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

Lynas wins full mining licence despite protests

This is one of the latest developments on Lynas’ bid to get a full licence amid public outcry against its business operations in Malaysia. Re-blogging my post earlier this week:

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

Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon (left) and activist Natalie Lowrey (right) flash an eviction notice for Lynas in Sydney after she was released from detention. (Photo: Supplied)

Protesters against the Lynas Advanced Material Plant (LAMP) operating in Kuantan, Malaysia face bleak days ahead after the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) granted the controversial plant a Full Operating State Licence (FOSL) after the Temporary Operating Licence (TOL) issued in 2012 expired Tuesday.

A full licence granted to rare earths mining company Lynas Corp Ltd. may be a big win for the industry, but for ordinary citizens battling for their health and safety it is a major setback.

Amin Abdullah, corporate communications manager of Lynas Malaysia SDN BHD, confirmed the board  granted the company a two-year full licence. Amin said in an email to Asian Correspondent: “We are pleased to inform that AELB has awarded us with the Full Operating Stage License (FOSL) yesterday.” He said this has been announced to the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX).

AELB Director-General Hamrah Mohd Ali said the FOSL as a proof Lynas has fully complied with the conditions set by AELB during its TOL operating stage. Lynas can apply for further renewal when the FOSL expires in two years.

Hamrah added that, “Lynas deserves a three-year FOSL but the board decided only to grant a two-year licence.” He said the board members have the right to decide on the period of the licence, and he was unable to provide the details of the decision-making process since he was not involved.

Activist groups including Stop Lynas, Save Malaysia and Stop Lynas! have been urging the company to reveal the location of its waste disposal facility. The permanent disposal facility (PDF) is one of the five conditions set in the licence applications. The groups have been fighting against toxic and radioactive wastes from the plant which they claim to be posing health threats to the local community. The location of waste disposal facility has been undisclosed up to this time.

However, Amin noted that during the two years of the TOL, Lynas fulfilled a list of conditions set by the regulators and was continuously being monitored by various regulatory bodies, including AELB and Department Of Energy in Kuantan. “We are pleased to inform that Lynas complies with all relevant National and International regulations & standards set by IAEA, AELB, DOE etc, “ he said.

LAMP’s upstream and downstream extraction sections. (Photo: Lynas)

Hamrah dismissed criticisms on Lynas’ undisclosed facilities, saying they were merely “interpretations”.

“The problem you raised that members of the public had said that the condition of the (temporary operating) licence had not been complied with, that was their interpretation. But we (act) based on facts, science and figures, we are not (acting) based on hearsay,” he stressed.

The AELB issued the two-year TOL to Lynas on Sept 3, 2012 with five conditions, including disclosure of the PDF of the radioactive waste.

The Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry later imposed two extra conditions over the licence, which required Lynas to come up with a method to immobilise the radioactive elements in its waste, as well as an emergency response plan on dust control.

Amin said Lynas has been operating in Gebeng Industrial Estate in Kuantan, Pahang since November 2012 after being granted a TOL which has fulfilled all the regulatory requirements set by the AELB and the Malaysian government.

“These regulatory requirements include the Environmental Impact Assessment as well as Radiological Impact Assessment that must be done first and concluded at the initial stage of the application  for the license. Public engagements were also done at the start of the application and it is an ongoing continuous activity until today,” he added.

Malaysian authorities accused of human rights violations

Re-blogging:

The local police in Gebeng, Malaysia have been accused of suppressing basic human rights following the illegal arrests of civilians who are protesting against the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP), an Australian-owned rare earths mining company.

Civilian rally against Lynas.

Over a dozen of protesters were arrested on June 22, including Australian environmental defender Natalie Lowrey. She was released earlier and she is now back in Sydney safe and sound.

However, not all the protesters were freed in good faith. Last week, six were released on three conditions – bail amounting to RM 2,500 (€576) each, a ban from posting on social media, and monthly reporting at the local police station.

The six are members of the Himpunan Hijau (Green Assembly), a Malaysian environmental movement protesting against Lynas. They were detained on charges of illegal assembly and rioting following their participation in the protest calling for the company to cease work on the plant and leave Malaysia.

The group opposes the operations of Lynas plant, which the group claims produces tonnes of toxic waste.

A couple joins the rally.

Two protesters were hospitalised after the protest and  a human rights defender sustained serious injuries in the head, resulting in concussion, according to reports. All were charged were violating the country’s penal code.

The lawyer for the human rights defenders rejected the conditions, arguing that the injunction is an unconstitutional infringement of  the right to freedom of expression. The case hearing will resume on September 2.

Front Line Defenders is concerned that the charges and bail conditions are targeting the protesters  in order to obstruct and limit their human rights, specifically their campaign to protect the environment of the local community in Kuantan.

A vigil rally pressing for the release of Australian environmental defender Natalie Lowry.

Front Line Defenders has urged the authorities in Malaysia to immediately drop all charges against the 15 human rights activists.

Link: Asian Correspondent

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

Australia finds no deal to help asylum seekers

The Senate upheld a High Court’s decision to scrap an extra-territorial solution to  people smuggled by boat into Australia in a dramatic vote, 39 against 29.

This is a nail in the coffin of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s benchmark policy to solve human smuggling. It also puts to rest Gillard’s “Malaysian Solution”—a deal that allows Australia to take in 4,000 genuine refugees from Malaysia in exchange for the deportation and processing of 800 boat arrivals within four years.

The High Court ruled out the deal in August last year on the grounds that Malaysia has no legal obligation to protect asylum seekers, a requirement under Australia’s Migration Act.

Refugee coalition groups in Australia also noted Malaysia rejected any responsibility in the protection of refugees and asylum seekers.

In Malaysia, the Lawyers for Liberty based in Selangor earlier supported a memorandum endorsed by various organisations against Australia’s “misguided refugee outsourcing deal.”

We, the undersigned civil society organizations, wish to express our opposition to the proposed Australia-Malaysia bilateral agreement, in principle, to transfer the next 800 asylum seekers seeking asylum in Australia to Malaysia.

Although the terms of the joint agreement remain vague, we are of the view that the Australian Government is making a mistake in arranging this joint agreement with the Malaysian Government which is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (“Refugee Convention”). This proposed exchange is a misguided approach in dealing with a complex issue that will cause serious ramifications as Malaysia has a long record of abuse and mistreatment of people seeking protection. This arrangement, if implemented, may lead to the violation of the rights of transferred individuals to Malaysia.

Two boatloads of asylum seekers arrived on Christmas Island, north off Australia in just 10 days.  Media reports counted about 130 people were rescued, one body was recovered and three people went down with the vessel. Wednesday’s incident came just days after another boat capsized, with 110 people saved but an estimated 90 killed.

Toddlers are among the latest boat arrivals. (Photo: Danile Wilkins)

The twin tragedies alerted the Federal government. The Lower House convened and passed a bill on Wednesday to allow offshore processing of asylum seekers. However,  the breakthrough was immediately dashed off by the Senate on Thursday. Heated debates lasted up to the wee hours of Friday morning.

The bill authored by Independent Rob Oakeshott is called the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012. It allows Australia to send asylum seekers to Malaysia and the island of Nauru in the South Pacific for processing.

The Opposition reached a compromise, but the Australian Greens were against the proposed deal and therefore voted against the bill in both houses.

The Parliament will go into a winter recess while more boats are expected to arrive within the next few weeks.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen pronounced a macabre prediction that more boat people are expected to die while politicians are having a 6-week holiday break, the SBS reported.

A boatload of people is spotted approaching Christmas Island. (Photo: Express MV Bison)

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie also said parliamentarians should not be going into recess when such an important matter remained unresolved.

“We should be sitting today, we should have continued sitting last night, we should sit next week, we should sit until we get a solution,” he told state broadcaster ABC.

“I think there is every chance in the world that more people will die during this six-week recess,” he said.

Gilliard earlier blamed the High Court for Australia’s failure to deal with human smugglers. She said the High Court-Senate is sending a message to people smugglers to load more people to come to Australia.

Amid prolonged parliamentary processes, Gillard announced the formation of a panel composed of “experts” such as former defence chief Angus Houston, former top diplomat Michael L’Estrange and refugee advocate Paris Aristotle. She said the panel will assess all asylum policy options. The “Multi Reference Group of MPs” will also work in consultation with the panel.

Since 1976, more than 27,000 people have risked their lives on boats in a desperate bid to arrive in Australia, a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.