Malaysian authorities destroy Borneo village

House of lead plaintiff in landmark rainforest litigation demolished by Sarawak authorities in an arbitrary law enforcement action.


By Bruno Manser Fund

SUNGAI SEKABAI / SARAWAK,  EAST MALAYSIA. In a dramatic twist to one of Malaysia’s most prominent legal conflicts between native communities and the government of the East Malaysian state of Sarawak on Borneo, a Sarawak Land and Survey enforcement team, with assistance from Malaysian army personnel and the police, have yesterday demolished 25 houses of an Iban native community at Sungai Sekabai near the town of Bintulu.


According to the Sarawak Indigenous Peoples’ network, TAHABAS, the law enforcement squad demolished about 25 houses with all the natives’ belongings inside without prior notice being given to the community. Most of the occupants were left without any place to live and their belongings were also intentionally destroyed by the enforcement team, writes TAHABAS, adding that the Iban natives were in shock over what had happened to their homes.


Among the victims of the arbitrary attack on the native community’s property is headman Nor anak Nyaway who gained international recognition for having won a land rights litigation against the Sarawak authorities. In a 2001 landmark court ruling, the High Court of Sabah and Sarawak acknowledged that the Iban community under Nor had native customary rights not only over their farmland but also over primary rainforests.


The current demolition of the Iban’s homes is apparently based on an eviction order issued by a local court. Sarawak lawyer Baru Bian, the legal representative of the Iban community, said the court order was granted on technical grounds only and not on merit and that it was under appeal.


Baru, who is also Sarawak chairman of Anwar Ibrahim’s Justice party, PKR, said the authorities’ action was “unacceptable” and “inhumane”. He also commented that the authorities should not be involved at this stage as it was a private land issue between the native community and a timber company. Baru said his law office was currently preparing a new lawsuit on the matter and would ask the court for an order of injunction and for compensation being given to the natives.


The Bruno Manser Fund condemns the Sarawak authorities’ arbitrary destruction of a native village and calls on the international community to pressure Malaysia to respect the hunman rights of Sarawak’s native population.