Penans call for change in how they are treated
PETALING JAYA: The environmental group Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) has demanded that the Sarawak government explain its alleged failure to protect the interests of indigenous communities and how it intends to provide them with “stronger” land rights.
“Despite the many statements of the Sarawak State Government, the reality on the ground for affected communities has remained the same,” SAM ground officer Jok Jau Evong said at a press conference today to celebrate the publication of a book that compiles articles released over the years by SAM and Penan community organisations on the grievances of the Penans.
The publication comes 13 years after the Sarawak Penan Association released the Long Sayan Declaration, which was signed by more than 40 Penan community leaders. It called for a halt in all logging operations on Penan territories, the gazetting of the territories into Communal Forest Reserves and the provision of accessible healthcare, education, quality housing, power and clean water supply as well as agricultural training and support to the community.
Jok Jau, a musician renowned in Borneo, said the indigenous tribes, especially the Penans, were still facing great challenges in accessing basic facilities such as electricity and clean water.
He asked: “After three decades of numerous promises, what exactly has the Sarawak State Government done to ensure the security of their customary land rights and the lifting of their standard of living?
“We would like our friends in the peninsula to take the initiative to call on the Sarawak State Government to make a change to the lives of our indigenous people.”
Long Hot, a Penan community leader, told reporters the Penans were not disposed to opposing the government, but wanted a change in the way they were treated.
“We practically live in the forest,” he said. “We have a connection with the forest based on our traditions and culture. It is unfair for the government to say that we have no right to our own land. We have been there for a long time, since the very beginning.”
Yes, if Malays have rights, these indigenous people have even more rights as they have there much, much longer than anyone. Let the international community, local NGOs and foreign ones help protect their rights, land rights, etc. by voicing for them as they have very limited funds and resources.