The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam found that the proposed project would impede the traditional activities of the indigenous people and result in the resettlement of these communities.
Suhakam welcomes and commends the decision of the State Government of Sarawak to formally revoke, with effect from 14 January 2016, the Land (Native Customary Rights) (No. 39) Direction 2013 and the Land (Native Customary Rights) (No. 53) Direction 2014 that would extinguish native customary rights on land in two areas designated as sites for the proposed Baram hydroelectric dam.
This decision reflects the responsiveness of the state government to the concerns expressed by the indigenous communities who will be adversely affected by the dam project.
The commission received a memorandum from the affected communities in 2012 who raised concerns over conceivable human rights violations resulting from the proposed development and, in September 2015, visited the site to gather feedback and the views of the communities.
The commission found that the indigenous peoples from all 10 villages were not in favour of the project that would, among others, affect their ancestral lands. The commission also observed that the proposed project would impede their traditional activities and result in substantial resettlement of the communities.
Recognising the critical disconnect between Malaysia’s support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the international stage and its application at the national level, there is an urgent need for the government to intensify its efforts to meet the objectives of the declaration towards ensuring the fulfilment of the rights of indigenous peoples in the country.
Among others, the commission advises that an adequate legal framework for the development of large-scale hydroelectric projects must be put in place that would include social and environmental safeguards that are critical to protect against potentially harmful impacts on the environment and human rights.
Tan Sri Hasmy Agam is chairman of Suhakam.