“Youth for Ecological Justice in Baram : Solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples as Stewards of Creation”

 Tanjung Tepalit Lepo’ Gah , Ulu Baram, Sarawak, Malaysi

24th January – 7th February 2015  


             We, the 14 tertiary Catholic students from the various tertiary institutions of Malaysia, gathered at the Tanjung Tepalit Lepo’ Gah’, Ulu Baram, Sarawak from the 24th January – 7th February 2015 to participate in the “School of Acting Justly, Loving Tenderly and Treading humbly with God (SALT) 2015 organised by the SALT Movement in partnership with Save Sarawak Rivers Network (SAVE Rivers). This is the fifth SALT organized since 2008. Besides focused learning related to the theme, “Youth for Ecological Justice in Baram: Solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples as Stewards of Creation”, SALT V is a school with safe and critical space for effective networking, fostering a sense of teamwork, partnership and camaraderie among the participants. It is a process of mutual enrichment through information sharing, training on Native Customary Rights (NCR), the Federal Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) through interactive learning especially by experiencing the reality of the Orang Ulu communities in Long Liam, Long Apu and Long Anap situated in the area to be affected in the future by the proposed construction of the Baram Dam in Ulu Baram, Sarawak. Below are the aims and objectives of the program which inspired us to participate actively. 


1. Develop critical understandings and strategies to uphold the fundamental human rights through effective advocacy at international, regional and grassroots levels guided by principles of the the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) regarding the standards and violations. 

2. Create a platform for students and local community in Baram to come together to analyze the conditions of the Indigenous Peoples in terms of socio-political, economical, cultural, spiritual, religious and enviromental perspectives. 

 3. Develop a common critical understanding on the realities faced by the Indigenous Peoples and to empower students and young people to advocate with/as Indigenous Peoples.  

4. Evaluate the present efforts, plan further actions and campaign characterized by social reforms for the indigenous peoples against institutionalized discrimination at all levels.  

5. Create awareness about the link between the Indigenous Peoples and the environment, especially their contribution and efforts at arresting global climate change. 


 1. To enable participants to promote the principles of the United Nation’s Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in the protection of Native Customary Rights (NCR).

  2. To help our youth understand the intimate relationship between the Indigenous Peoples and their land and territories, and the impact of unsustainable development, market oriented cash crop plantations and neo-liberal global capitalism. 

3. To arrive at a common critical understanding of the struggle faced by the Indigenous Peoples in Baram and how “development” contributed to their poverty and marginalization; 

 4. Respond to the struggle of the indigenous community in Ulu Baram by developing advocacy tools and a strategy for joint solidarity to campaign against the dam.

 5. To build a movement of university students and young people who are committed and equipped to advocate against Baram Dam.  


The proposed Baram Dam is a project that is going to be built in Ulu Baram which will directly affect twenty six Indigenous People’s villages. The dam is to be built in order to produce electricity for villagers at Ulu Baram. Unfortunately, the processes that have taken place over the past few years by the relevant authorities are highly questionable as they do not follow principles of democracy and human rights standards. There are twenty six villages that will be affected by the building of the Baram Dam*. Based on the observations in Long Liam, Long Apu and Long Anap, there are various economic sources of the communities such as self-sustenance, gathering of natural resources, receiving government subsidies, working as government servants and receiving financial contribution from family members from outside the village. Most communities are economically dependent on the land. The communities are also facing problems in developing their economic status because there is no basic infrastructure to commercialise their agricultural products. Besides that, their land and forest which are their main source of income are also threatened by the logging activities and the possible construction of the Baram Dam.  

The villagers have their traditional governing institution which will be affected by the dam. Traditionally, the decision making process was done through consensus with the whole members of the villagers. The role of the community leader is to facilitate the discussion among the community and once the decision has been made the community leader will endorse the decision as the communities’ decision. Currently, the current village governing institution is being indiscriminately manipulated by the government for their own political agenda to proceed with the proposed Baram Dam project. However, they are other institutions such as Village Security and Development committee, Community Based Organization (CBO) and religious leaders are to help the community to address various issues and problems, besides becoming the platform for the villagers to unite and voice out their opinions and positions. 
Moreover, with referral to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP);- 

i. The rights to the land of the Indigenous Peoples at Long Liam, Long Apu and Long Anap will be violated if the construction of the dam takes place. The articles in the UNDRIP can be used as guidelines to defend the rights of Indigenous Peoples. ii. The objections that have been made by the representative of the communities, SAVE Rivers, and other civil society organizations have been ignored by the state and local government (violation of Article 23 of UNDRIP).

 iii. In deciding the implementation of the Baram Dam the government has failed to fulfil its commitments towards the UNDRIP which asserts the rights of Indigenous Peoples to determine their own development or use of their lands and resources and that they should not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories without their own free, prior and informed consent (violation of Article 10 and 32).  

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 1 states that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. Article 7 states that all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination. Thus, the government should protect the rights of the Indigenous Peoples from exploitation by the commercialization of their lands, territories and resources.  
There will also be environmental degradation with the construction of the Baram Dam resulting in the forest and rivers being destroyed. We are strongly against the private companies who are involved in the dam construction for they are neglecting their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and actively violating the Native Customary Rights (NCR) land in the name of development. The same applies to the banks and financial institutions that are financing this project. 

SALT 5 Theology: Our Faith Reflections  

We believe that our spirituality demands that we fight for the Indigenous Peoples from oppression and suffering. We consciously advocate with/for the rights of the oppressed and the marginalized. This is our preferential option for the poor. Hence we must immediately stop the oppression towards the Indigenous Peoples spirituality. We believe that our spirituality helps in our journey for the marginalized as in Jeremiah 1: 6-7 says that “O Lord God,” I said, “I can’t do that! I’m far too young! I’m only a youth!” Don’t say that, “he replied, “For you will go wherever I send you and speak whatever I tell you to”.  

We also studied the relationships between God, us, the villagers and the people affected as well as the politicians and private companies involved. We prayed for wisdom and strength for us to carry on the fight, for motivation, perseverance and faith for the people involved so that with God they will be saved from the threat of the dam, and for humility for the politicians and the private companies so that they will drop the plans for the dam, and leave these people in peace. We also pray that the spirit of God will help the Indigenous Peoples fight injustice and be with them in their darkest times. We shall ensure that the Catholic Social Teachings and the radical life of Jesus are used to inspire all of us to join in this struggle.  


Through our experiences and learning, we demand the society: 

Baram Community 

 To encourage to all villagers to cooperate and achieve consensus to reject the dam;  To ensure equal participation between women and men in all decision making processes; 

 To collectively take ownership of preserving clean environment;  To ensure the culture is preserved, documented and practiced; 

To encourage villagers to demand sufficient and prior information on the proposed Baram Dam, so that they can make an informed decision;  To encourage the youth to participate actively in the anti dam campaign especially at the blockade;

 To encourage the working youth outside of Baram to return and contribute to the community in holistic ways; 

 To the community leaders that they should reject corruption at all levels and objectively represent community in all administrative matters;

 To reject and report any illegal logging activities.  

Campus Level (CSG, CUS, CSS, CVS) 

 To conduct open forums and panel discussions on social awareness about the issues faced by IPs using the various tools used in SALT 5, in order to generate critical thinking among the students; 

 To insert issues on the dam project into campus level activities, to facilitate solution through formation; 

 To strengthen the bond between ordinary members and leaders to ensure a collective voice to fight against the dam project.

  To form an advocacy group for Indigenous Peoples rights by indigenous students to be recognised by Catholic Bishop Conference of Malaysia Singapore Brunei Youth Commission (CBCMSBYC). 

 To guide the campus students in struggling for the rights of the Indigenous Peoples by providing solid formation on the Catholic Social Teachings. This includes supporting students financially, giving opinions, motivating and other supports possible in the advocacy against the dam;

 The church leaders especially bishops, priests and religious to be the prophetic voice and role models against oppression in the Baram Dam issue. 
The Sarawak Government 

 To stop the Baram Dam project immediately; 

 To respect and honour the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights under the Law which is enshrine in the Federal Constitution, Sarawak Land Code and international instruments such as UNDRIP and UDHR, to uphold human dignity; 

 To use the principles of Free, Prior and Inform Consent (FPIC) in the decision making process in regards to development plans involving Indigenous Peoples’ rights;

  To consider the relevant claims by the communities, SAVE Rivers and civil society organizations about the Baram Dam issue and thereafter protect the Indigenous Peoples’ rights;

  To be transparent and “pro-citizens” especially towards the Indigenous Peoples as stated in the government’s 1Malaysia slogan “Rakyat Didahulukan, Pencapaian Diutamakan” (People First, Performance Now). 
Opposition Parties;

 To cooperate in voicing out the citizen’s complaints especially the villagers that are affected by the dam project so as to work together and support the people; 

 To campaign and spread the issues of Baram Dam and its effects on the environment; 

 To be the “checks and balance” in society and country especially under the current ruling party;  Do not repeat the same mistakes as the current ruling coalition is making with regards to development and human rights issues.

Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) 

 To consider the consequences of the construction of Baram Dam that will affect the environment and ecosystem;

  To respect the rights of the Indigenous Peoples in Baram and the state of Sarawak;

  To conduct more research on alternative renewable energy sources and implement the alternatives replacing the proposed Baram Dam.   
Mass Media (TV, Radio, Internet, Newspapers, Academic Magazine) 

 To provide the correct and concise information regarding Baram Dam.

  To air the information regarding Baram Dam issues through TV, radio, internet, etc to make it widely known, and revealing the positive and negative effects, in order to make the issue known for public debate;  

 To spread information without being biased and to use accurate data in presenting the information; 

To educate people on UNDRIP especially to the Indigenous Peoples on their rights; 

 To be alert and updated on any new information and developments regarding the proposed Baram Dam and to disseminate these new information; 

  To show more concern towards the Indigenous Peoples’ rights and not to take advantage of their struggles. 

General Public 
 To encourage every Malaysian to get involved in the campaign to stop the Baram Dam because the impact of this project will affect all Malaysians; 

 To be aware of their rights and responsibilities to reject projects that cause environmental degradation and violation of human rights. 
Civil Society Organizations (CSO) 

 We strongly hope CSO will continue to support the struggles of the Indigenous Peoples and the marginalized to strengthen their organization’s mission especially at the KM 15 Baram Blockade. 

 To empower the indigenous students and youths with knowledge and skills related to Human Rights and Citizenship; 

 To continue the advocacy and network building to stop the Baram Dam;

  To recruit and train students and youth into their organizations in order to increase the number of activists, particularly from the Indigenous Peoples community;

  To produce more creative materials/media which will be used to deliver complex legal and human right documents to grass root community in simple forms and vernacular languages;

  To be in solidarity with the marginalized community and facilitate the engagement between them and authorities.  

 To put pressure on the government of Malaysia to stop the Baram Dam since we have adopted the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP);  

 To send UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of the Indigenous Peoples to Sarawak to investigate all the human rights violations faced by the Indigenous Peoples;

  To recommend on behalf of the Indigenous Peoples for the International Financial Institutions not to fund the Baram Dam project.  

SALT V 2015 Declaration on the Indigenous Peoples in Malaysia Last but not least, we, the members of the School of Acting Justly, Loving Tenderly and Treading Humbly with God (SALT V) 2015, hereby declare to uphold the dignity and rights of the marginalized Indigenous Peoples through our actions of raising their issues and working with them at various levels. Since Malaysia has adopted the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), we demand the government, specifically the state government of Sarawak to implement and honour the UNDRIP, Native Customary Rights (NCR) status and uphold principles of the UDHR in terms of the protection of Indigenous Peoples lands, cultures, customs and way of life. As human beings, they are to be treated fairly and justly. Hence, the Baram Dam project must be stop immediately.   


Article 10 of UNDRIP  
Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.  

Article 23 of UNDRIP 
Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for exercising their right to development. In particular, indigenous peoples have the right to be actively involved in developing and determining health, housing and other economic and social programmes affecting them and, as far as possible, to administer such programmes through their own institutions.  

Article 32 of UNDRIP  
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or territories and other resources.  

2. States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.  
3. States shall provide effective mechanisms for just and fair redress for any such activities, and appropriate measures shall be taken to mitigate adverse environmental, economic, social, cultural or spiritual impact.