Swiss Rainforest Tribunal to look into Borneo deforestation

Representatives of the Penan people from Sarawak (Borneo) and other leading experts will come to Basel, Switzerland in August for an event to bear witness to the destruction of Borneo’s forests: The Rainforest Tribunal. The aim of the Tribunal is to take stock after decades of deforestation and ruthless exploitation of the rainforest: What are the consequences for people and the environment?

The Basel Rainforest Tribunal is a political theatre with a presidency, an investigative board, witness hearings and a high-profile jury. It serves the purpose of coming to terms with real events, place them in a larger context, and provide firsthand testimonies from the Indigenous communities of Malaysian Borneo’s remote interior.

Taking stock after decades of deforestation

Sarawak, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo, was the world's largest exporter of tropical timber for 30 years. Today, the primeval forests have been destroyed except for a few remnants which have been defended by its local residents. The peak of deforestation occurred during the 33-year tenure of Abdul Taib Mahmud ("Taib") as Chief Minister of Sarawak.

What are the impacts of deforestation on the lives of Indigenous peoples in the rainforest and its unique biodiversity? Where have the billions of dollars in profits generated from deforestation gone? Why does the Sarawak government still ignore the Penan's land rights demands?

To answer these and other questions, Indigenous delegates and experts from Malaysia as well as from Switzerland, the UK, Denmark and the US will come to Basel on 15 August 2023. There they will testify as witnesses before the Basel Rainforest Tribunal. Taib, now 87 years old, has also been invited in his current role as Governor of Sarawak.

Civil action against the Bruno Manser Fund as background

The Tribunal is chaired by the Swiss economist Kaspar Müller. He is the heirs' representative of the missing Swiss environmentalist Bruno Manser, who disappeared in Sarawak in 2000. Cynthia Gabriel, an internationally renowned anti-corruption expert from Malaysia, is acting as president of the jury.

The Tribunal is being held in response to a civil lawsuit filed five years ago by Taib's daughter Jamilah Taib Murray and her Canadian real estate group (Sakto) against the Bruno Manser Fonds for alleged personal injury. The case will be heard by the Basel Civil Court on 16 August 2023.

The Basel Rainforest Tribunal

Tuesday, 15 August 2023, 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m., Scala Basel, Freie Strasse 89, Basel (Switzerland)
Language: English with simultaneous translation into German and French
Admission: CHF 120.- including lunch (CHF 40.- for people in education)

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