Upper Baram Penan villages reject forest certification

The Penan villages of Long Lamai and Ba Lai refuse to participate in the ongoing forest certification process and ask timber giant Samling to respect their territories

(LONG LAMAI & BA LAI / BARAM / SARAWAK) The Penan communities of Long Lamai and Ba Lai have expressed their complete rejection of logging and certification efforts in the Tama Abu Forest Management Unit (FMU). The communities articulated this message in a letter to timber giant Samling and by refusing to participate in the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS) auditing processes. Samling Timber is currently undergoing auditing for sustainable forest management certification within this FMU in the upper reaches of the Baram River. In a letter sent to Samling today, the communities of Long Lamai and Ba Lai write that they reserve their rights to their forest and land and do not agree to delegate control to any other party. The MTCS standard guarantees Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) to communities – and these villages demand that these principles be upheld. MTCS has been compulsory for all natural forests in Sarawak since the end of 2022.

Samling hired Control Union Malaysia to complete the MTCS auditing process for the Tama Abu FMU, covering timber licenses T/0390 and T/9082. The stage 2 audit was scheduled to start earlier this week, June 12th, and to last until June 19th, 2023. The villagers of Long Lamai and Ba Lai refuse to receive the auditors during their field visit. Along with their letters rejecting the logging and certification process, the villagers shared maps marking the boundaries of their territories. They stress that their boundaries are outlined to prevent timber extraction, not to exclude other native groups in the area or deny their rights to the forest.

In the letters to Samling’s COO James Ho Yam Kuan, headmen Bian Belare of Long Lamai and Aran Tuan Lajan of Ba Lai stated: “We, the village of Long Lamai/Ba Lai, want to clearly express and have it officially recorded that we reject all logging in our territory. We expect Samling and any consultancy firms hired by Samling, whether for conducting studies, consultations or audits to stay away from our territory and respect its boundaries. Do not interpret our non-participation as agreement, it is the opposite, it is the expression of our rejection of the whole timber business. Samling is not welcome in our village, forest or land.”

Komeok Joe, head of the Penan organization KERUAN whose organization forwarded the letters to Samling, expressed the general sentiments of the Penan towards logging and MTCS: “Historically, logging has only brought destruction and suffering to the Penan. We do not want to participate in this destruction, whether it is called sustainable or not. The other Penan villages within the Upper Baram Forest Area (UBFA) feel the same way as Long Lamai and Ba Lai and see too many dangers in participating in sustainable forest management certification. After all, MTCS is about logging, which we cannot agree with. The Penan instead support initiatives like the UBFA, which combines forest conservation and development.”

Long Lamai and Ba Lai as well as their neighbouring villages of Long Banga and Long Puak are part of the Upper Baram Forest Area, an initiative supported by local communities and the Forest Department Sarawak under the umbrella of the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO). They are also within the Tama Abu FMU.

In May the Forest Stewardship Council FSC officially accepted a complaint against Malaysian timber giant Samling after determining there was “sufficient evidence” regarding violation of FSC policies, including alleged violations of traditional and human rights and destruction of high conservation value forests.

14 June 2023

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