A group of 27 concerned NGOs and activist organizations have united to express outcry over the treatment of hundreds of Indigenous Penan women, men and children who have been peacefully protesting at the site of the Murum Hydroelectric Project since September. As of November 5th, a barricade of armed police has cordoned off the protestors, denying them basic supplies, such as food and water. These groups are asking Prime Minister Najib Rzak to intervene at the Murum Dam site to protect the rights of the affected communities.
According to the Bruno Manser Fonds, the Prime Minister has specifically been called on to withdraw the police and to allow human rights observers and lawyers to access the area. The groups have also asked for a temporary halt to the impoundment of the reservoir and to respect the demands of the impacted communities.
Lawyers, human rights groups, paramedics, media personnel and convoys carrying basic supplies for distribution have all reported that access to the site has been blocked, according to International Rivers. At least two minors have been reported arbitrarily arrested, detained and charged amongst a group of protesters. This act of force is contrary to the provisions in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
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According to International Rivers, obtaining accurate information regarding the health and wellbeing of families inside the security perimeter is nearly impossible, and raises concern over the conditions of those who are vulnerable, including younger children and older people. Intimidation, threats, arrests, detentions and criminalization of members of the Penan families seeking justice against forced displacement are in clear violation of legally guaranteed rights with respect to freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly.
Given the above mentioned, the groups are calling for:
• An immediate withdrawal of the police forces surrounding the sites of the Penan people’s protests against the Murum Hydroelectric Project;
• An immediate withdrawal of all criminal charges lodged against the Penan protesters exercising their fundamental rights to free expression, association and assembly, and a suspension on further harassment and arrests of people at the protest sites exercising the above rights;
• Respective authorities in Sarawak to halt the denial of distribution of food, water and other basic supplies to the protest sites, and to facilitate the unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief supplies to the protest site, thereby upholding the right to health of all Penan families who are at the protest sites;
• Permission for independent human rights observers, as well as medical personnel, to access the protest sites, respecting their freedom of movement within the state of Sarawak;
• An immediate cessation of the impoundment of the Murum reservoir until all outstanding grievances of the affected communities have been genuinely and effectively addressed;
• Responsible authorities and Sarawak Energy to take immediate steps towards proactively respecting the articulated demands of affected communities – all of which have a basis in the provisions of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples-including for access to information, meaningful consultation about their futures, and fair compensation for all losses inflicted.
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