Sarawak logs are often harvested on native lands without the consent of the indigenous population. (Photo: BMF)

The Malaysian Network of Indigenous Peoples and Non-Governmental Organisations (JOANGOHUTAN) newly released report documents the shocking extent of the Sarawak state authorities’ disregard for native rights as codified in the Malaysian laws and constitution.

It highlights several case studies of logging-related conflicts between native communities and the authorities and lists over 140 cases of pending legal action between native communities and the Sarawak government over the issue of logging, oil palm and paper tree plantation licenses.

Sarawak's natives have had little benefit from logging despite development promises by the state authorities (Photo: BMF)

The report accuses the Malaysian state authorities of largely ignoring native land rights even where the legal systems and the courts have delivered judgements in favour of indigenous communities and upheld their rights to lands, territories and resources.

“It frequently happens that rather than ensuring the law is being upheld, local authorities, police and loggers act in collusion to harass and intimidate indigenous communities”, the report states.

The report also condemns the state of Sarawak for its lack of “a transparent and open process of Environmental and Social Impact assessments on logging and other projects carried out in Sarawak.”

As a consequence, JOANGOHUTAN calls on the European Union not to sign a timber trade agreement with Malaysia “without ensuring it includes a mechanism that forces the Malaysian Government to recognise the rights of indigenous peoples” and a mechanism that ensures that the Sarawak government “must uphold and implement all recent court judgements”.

Wong Meng Chuo, Director of the Sibu-based NGO Ideal, said: “We urge the Malaysian government and the European Union to ensure that any agreement is based on procedures in accordance with existing national and international human rights laws and instruments recognising the rights of indigenous peoples.”

Timber trade talks between Malaysia and the European Union over a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) have been going on since September 2006 but Malaysia has so far failed to provide sufficient proof of the legal origin of its timber exports, mainly because of a lack of compliance in Sarawak, Malaysia’s timber-richest state.

Malaysia is the world’s largest exporter of tropical timber. In 2008, Sarawak timber exports alone attained a value of 7.4 billion Malaysian Ringgits (2.3 billion US $).

While the European Union takes an estimated 15% of Malaysian timber exports in value terms, only 2% of Sarawak timber exports go to the European Union. The main buyers of Sarawak timber are Japan (38%), India (12%), Taiwan (10%), Korea (9%) and other Asian markets.