July 14, 2015. Miri, Sarawak – Around 30 indigenous peoples’ leaders from different countries all over Asia traveled to the blockade site at Kilometer 15 to support the people’s opposition to the construction of the Baram Dam. The indigenous leaders, representing the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), joined the Baram people in their call to stop all plans to build the Baram dam because it would displace some 20,000 indigenous peoples from 26 villages and destroy their land, life and resources that they depend on for their survival.
Bearing stories and lessons from their own experiences, the indigenous leaders took turns encouraging the Baram protesters not to give up in their fight to defend their land and their cultural identity. Joan Carling, Secretary General of AIPP, recounted how the indigenous peoples in the Philippines succeeded in stopping the World Bank-funded Chico River Dam project during the 1980s. From this experience, Ms. Carling stressed the need for strong unity to confront powerful forces. “What is most important is that the affected peoples are united and that we have wide support of advocates, academe, lawyers, environmental groups and other sectors at the local, national and international levels.” She also said “We are encouraged and inspired by the determination of the Baram peoples and we commit to support your actions to defend your rights and dignity”.
From Indonesia, Mina Setra representing the national Alliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (AMAN), motivated the blockaders to continue their struggle. “We will go back to our communities in Indonesia and let them know about your fight.” From Nagaland People’s Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR), Neingulo Krome expressed that he is much encouraged by the determination of the Baram people, saying, “The only option is to succeed, otherwise, it will be the end of our existence. To lose in the struggle is not an option,” he said.
The participants reiterated that indigenous peoples have the right to participate fully and effectively in decision-making processes affecting them. They called on the Sarawak and Malaysian government to respect the Native Customary Rights of indigenous communities accorded to them under the Federal Constitution and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in relation to the planned hydropower projects in Sarawak.
The exchange visit with the Baram people was hosted by the Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (Indigenous Peoples Network of Malaysia – JOAS), a national network of indigenous peoples’ organizations in Malaysia and one of the members of AIPP providing assistance and platform for indigenous communities in Malaysia.
AIPP is a regional organization founded in 1988 as a platform for solidarity and cooperation among indigenous peoples’ movements. It is comprised of 47 member organizations from 14 countries in Asia with 7 indigenous peoples’ national alliances/networks and 35 local and sub-national organizations. AIPP actively promotes indigenous peoples’ rights and human rights; sustainable development and management of resources; and environment protection through advocacy and building partnerships at local to global levels. ***
Mr. Thomas Jalong
JOAS – President
AIPP Executive Council Member
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