KUCHING: The unanticipated decision by Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem to revoke the gazettement for land earmarked for the Baram dam and reservoir has been commended by indigenous leaders around the world.
The decision to halt the construction of the Baram dam is timely with mounting evidence that the unpredictable and extreme weather caused by climate change would increase cost and reduce benefits of mega dams, said Joan Carling, a member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII).
“With the added irreparable damage to indigenous communities who would be relocated for this purpose, the decision to revoke plans for the Baram dam is exemplary,” said Carling in a statement.
Recently, SAVE Rivers, a key community-led body that opposed the Baram dam, published a press statement announcing the decision.
In the statement, Harrison Ngau, lawyer for the Baram villagers, shared a letter from the State Legal Office dated March 15, stating a gazette that extinguished native customary rights of land for the dam had been repealed.
In earlier gazettes in 2013 and 2015, native land belonging to up to 20,000 indigenous people from 26 villages was taken from them, using the Sarawak Land Code for the proposed mega dam.
The land included villages, farms, cemeteries and communal forest reserve land known as Pulau Gala.
Since October 2013, two blockades have been set up, impeding the construction of the access roads and preparatory works for the dam.
The success of the Baram villagers in their five-year struggle is a huge victory for indigenous people around the world.
“It adds to the momentum we need to double the global area of land legally recognised as owned or controlled by indigenous people and local communities by 2020,” added Carling.
Carling, who is secretary-general of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, was part of the delegation which visited the Baram blockades in October last year.
“The success of the Baram folks in stopping a mega dam is one of the many land cases we will see through to victory, as we, the indigenous people of Malaysia are fully committed to realising the goals of the Land Rights Now campaign,” said Jannie Lasimbang, secretary of the Indigenous Peoples Network of Malaysia.