A Malaysian court has ruled that members of the Penan tribe can sue the government and a timber company for trespassing on their land, reports Survival International, the NGO which campaigns for the rights of tribal peoples
The Court of Appeal in Sarawak, the Malaysian part of Borneo, has overturned a previous decision that a case filed by five Penan could not be heard. The case had been disallowed because more than six years had passed since the Sarawak government issued the Merawa timber company with a licence to log their ancestral land.
The Sarawak government does not consult the Penan before licensing logging companies to operate on their land. The tribe often only learns that a licence has been granted when a company arrives with bulldozers.
One Penan man told Survival, ‘If a logging company enters our area and bulldozes all the trees, we won’t be able to go hunting, and all our plants will be destroyed. When the last company came, they polluted the river. We couldn’t drink the water, and we went thirsty when there was no rain.’
The Penan’s lawyer Baru Bian described the ruling as a ‘landmark decision’, because it removes the ‘time bar’ that has often prevented Sarawak’s indigenous people from using the legal system to combat the destruction of their land by logging and palm oil companies.
The five Penan, from the village of Long Lamai, will now take their case back to the High Court.