Urgent Appeal for Borneo Forest
Defenders at Rumah Nor
Village head in front of his demolished house
On January 19, 2010 bulldozers backed by Sarawak
state government agents demolished 39 houses in
the Iban village of Rumah Nor in Sarawak, Malaysia.
The demolition crew smashed the houses and all
belongings in them, including stored food, leaving
families without shelter in Malaysia’s rainy season.
As dismayed residents confronted the demolition
crew, state Land and Survey Department enforcement
agents threatened to return and destroy remaining
The Borneo Project condemns this unwarranted
and ruthless destruction by state authorities.
Villagers had no warning of the demolition, which
state agents ordered despite Rumah Nor’s pending
legal appeal of a local judge’s ruling in favor of a
company that wants the village’s land for
Residents of nearby communities and NGO supporters
joined the people of Rumah Nor to form a
“human wall” blockade to confront state demolition
crews. Malaysian civil society organizations
decried the unannounced destruction of village homes
as heartless, barbaric and illegal.
On January 25, the community obtained a temporary
injunction until February 9, 2010, blocking resumed
demolition. On February 9 the village and its lawyers
will present arguments in court to compel the
state government to recognize their customary land rights,
nullify the company’s provisional lease, and compensate
villagers for destruction of their homes and property.
The company, Tatau Land Sendirian Berhad, is a subsidiary
of the ASSAR Group, a state-controlled investment holding
corporation. Tatau Land holds a “provisional lease” for the
village’s customary rights land at Sungai Sekabai. It intends
to bulldoze existing homes, farms, forests
and orchards to build a “new township”.
Over the past decade, Rumah Nor has stood at the
forefront of Borneo communities’ struggle to protect
native forests and communal lands against reckless logging
and plantation expansion, and the collusive politicians
and companies who profit from it. The village’s lawyers
intend to sue the state agencies that issued the provisional
lease, as well as Tatau Land itself, to gain definitive legal
recognition of their customary land rights.
In 2001, a landmark judgment by Sarawak’s High
Court affirmed Rumah Nor’s Native Customary Rights
over their inherited territory. In 2005, an appellate
court overturned part of the 2001 state court ruling,
but did not affect the basic principle of native
communities’ customary land and forest rights.
Village head Nor anak Nyawai, who initiated the
village’s lawsuit, is among those whose homes were
razed on January 19. Many believe the demolitions and
state officials’ extreme action are a reprisal for the village’s
persistent legal challenges to state efforts to evict them from
their lands and forests.
Fast-track development plans for the region around
Rumah Nor’s land are linked to recently-unveiled schemes
associated with the “Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy”
SCORE is characterized by secretly developed plans for
12 major new hydro-electric dams financed by a state corporation
of China, in addition to the Bakun and Murum megadams
already under construction. Accelerated road building would
“open” a 70,000 square kilometer swathe of Borneo to more
logging and oil palm plantations, and heavy industries including
aluminum smelting and palm oil refining. Some 600,000 people
live in the SCORE region. Dams, plantations and industrial
development associated with SCORE is likely to displace many
thousands including indigenous Dayak communities
(Iban, Kayan, Kenyah, and Penan) that occupy much of the
rural area, which includes some of the world’s most
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This documentary was made in 2007 and
gives a good background to the issue
background to the issue
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