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2015 | OriginalPaper | Chapter

2. Gender Impact of Large-Scale Deforestation and Oil Palm Plantations Among Indigenous Groups in Sarawak, Malaysia

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Abstract

Land and forest ecosystems form the core of the belief systems and daily lives of indigenous forest people and communities. However, State policies and laws introduced in the colonial period, retained and reinforced by post-colonial states have substantially increased the state’s power and are restricting and removing indigenous rights to land and forest resources according to adat (traditional customs). This chapter examines the impact of changing land use and land tenure systems in Sarawak on human rights, livelihoods, and local gender practices. Conversion of forests to oil palm plantations is regarded as a disaster given the importance of land for customary practices, food security and income-generating activities, and other fundamental rights of indigenous peoples. We use the term ‘disaster’ from a variety of perspectives, foremost is the communities’ perspective placed alongside other perspectives such as gender, legal, socio-cultural, economical, and environmental. To support these arguments, this chapter studies the Iban community of Kampong Lebor whose customary lands were cleared by companies to plant oil palm without free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC). Large-scale plantations on these lands contributed to significant social and environmental risks and other negative socio-economic and climatic consequences. A human-made disaster in Sarawak was partly averted by restoring traditional land rights and tenure systems; however, without restoring women’s access to forest.
Footnotes
1
We are grateful for the comments, insights, criticism, and support provided by SACCESS and land rights lawyer and Sarawak State MP, See Chee How. We are also grateful to the anonymous reviewers who commented on earlier versions of this case study.
 
2
The Brooke family, starting with James Brooke, installed themselves as the White Rajahs (rulers) of Sarawak. James Brooke, a middle-class English adventurer, was rewarded with a block of territory (now the First Division of Sarawak) by the Sultan of Brunei in 1840 for helping to suppress a miners’ rebellion against the Sultanate. He acquired further territories and by 1864, the entire area under the control of the Brunei Sultanate was recognized as the independent state of Sarawak. James Brooke was succeeded by his nephew Charles Brooke as Second Rajah (1868–1917). Charles Vyner Brooke became the third Rajah in 1917 until the end of the Brooke’s rule in 1941.
 
3
Information on Kpg. Lebor is used with the permission of the villagers, supplemented with information obtained from the NGO SACCESS and See Chee How, a Sarawak state MP and land rights lawyer.
 
4
In pre-colonial times, an area of the Island of Borneo was known as Kapuas Basin. European colonial powers partitioned Borneo into Kalimantan under Dutch rule and Sarawak (initially under the Brooke family and subsequently) as a British crown colony, along with Sabah then called North Borneo.
 
5
While each indigenous group has its own concept and terms, this chapter uses the Iban’s explanation of native customary right lands (NCR lands) or native customary lands (NCL). The Iban concept of NCR was affirmed in the High Court judgement on the Kpg. Lebor case delivered in March 2012, reaffirmed in the decision of the Court of Appeal in September 2013.
 
6
Colchester et al. (2007: 9) defined ‘custom’ (adat) as a body of beliefs, social norms, customary laws and traditional practices passed on from one generation to the next as oral tradition.
 
7
That meant first converting non-written into a written law with governmental statutory power. While previously localized Adats held power over lands, usage and other aspects tied to life, not as how statutory laws were compartmentalized with one law each for lands, forests, agriculture, and so on up to now. Effectively, colonial law did not recognize NCR but rather destroyed Adats.
 
8
As of March 1, 2014, Taib had been appointed the new governor of Sarawak, a day after he resigned as the Chief Minister after 33 years in office. Taib appointed his former brother-in-law, Adenan Satem, to succeed him as Sarawak’s fifth Chief Minister.
 
9
For details about Taib and the companies owned by him or members of his family, numbering over 400 companies in 25 countries and offshore jurisdictions, see at: http://​hornbillunleashe​d.​wordpress.​com/​, http://​www.​sarawakreport.​org, http://​www.​bmf.​ch. The family’s stake in 14 Malaysian companies alone is over USD1.46 billion (MYR4.6 billion). See http://​www.​bmf.​ch, http://​www.​stop-timber-corruption.​org for additional information.
 
10
Sarawak Report, January 20, 2014.
 
11
Research by SACCESS found that the private company Nirwana Muhibbah Sdn Bhd was wholly owned by a ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) State Legislator, Mohd. Naroden B. Haji Majais, and his family. He was also an Assistant Minister with multiple portfolios in the Sarawak Government, in Planning and Resource Management, Assistant Minister in the Chief Minister’s Department, Assistant Minister of Land Development, Sarawak, and Assistant Minister for Entrepreneurial Development. He is a central committee member of Parti Besaka Bumiputra (PBB), the main component of the ruling BN alliance. It is alleged that since Naroden is a very powerful and influential member in both the Sarawak Government and the ruling BN, no action was taken against him by the authorities or the police.
 
12
High Court Suit No. 22-249-98-III (I) Tuai Rumah Nyutan ak Jami and two others vs the LCDA and two others. From this case study, it is argued that the State as in Sarawak Government refused to acknowledge land rights and lease out lands to private entities and communities have to sought rights through the courts.
 
13
In mid-2014, the judicial process was awaiting the final appeal by the companies and the State government to the Federal Court after the Court of Appeals had agreed with the High Court’s decision recognizing land rights.
 
14
Only about 300 ha of the original 1,395 ha disputed NCR lands was returned to the community. The company refused to hand over the remaining lands, pending the final outcome of the company’s appeal to the highest Federal Court. The company did not pay anything at all to the community; and only returned a small part of their lands.
 
15
In writing this case study, we recognize the need for more detailed research from gender perspectives on conflict and resistance to fully understand the impacts on indigenous women. The research questions, among others, include “How is the continuing land conflict changing the historically egalitarian Iban Adat?” “How do traditional societies disempower women—who could earlier be head of longhouses—when gender and other power relationships change with new land tenure systems?” and “Is the egalitarian system altered after lands are returned to communities by the judiciary?”
 
16
The role of Malaysian and Singaporean companies in forest burning has been documented. For example, a police investigation into three Wilmar subsidiaries in Landak, West Kalimantan, found that they “were guilty of burning land intentionally and systematically with the intent to clear land for plantation development” (Milieudefensie, Lembaga Gemawan, & KONTAK Rakyat Borneo, 2007: 26 cited in Pye 2009).
 
Literature
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go back to reference Ross, Michael L., 2001: Timber Booms and Institutional Breakdown in Southeast Asia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Ross, Michael L., 2001: Timber Booms and Institutional Breakdown in Southeast Asia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
go back to reference SACCESS, 2008: Adat and Human Rights in Sarawak, Human Rights Report, SUARAM, launched on July 23, 2009. SACCESS, 2008: Adat and Human Rights in Sarawak, Human Rights Report, SUARAM, launched on July 23, 2009.
go back to reference Wee, Aik Pang, 2012: Guidebook on Reclaiming Sarawak NCR Lands in Courts: Practical Information for Communities on Resorting to the Court Process (Civil Litigation) to Reclaim Native Customary Rights (NCR) Lands (Kuching: SACCESS). Wee, Aik Pang, 2012: Guidebook on Reclaiming Sarawak NCR Lands in Courts: Practical Information for Communities on Resorting to the Court Process (Civil Litigation) to Reclaim Native Customary Rights (NCR) Lands (Kuching: SACCESS).
Metadata
Title
Gender Impact of Large-Scale Deforestation and Oil Palm Plantations Among Indigenous Groups in Sarawak, Malaysia
Authors
Carol Yong
Wee Aik Pang
Copyright Year
2015
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16616-2_2