21st July 2010
Sarawak - This opinion celebrates, of sorts, two occasions. The first is that as a facebook page, at some time early this week we reached 1000 fans. We at this purely adhoc and voluntary effort thank you for what really started as a pilot for citizen journalism in Sarawak, trying to focus on issues around indigenous peoples. Without your 'liking' we probably would have not tried to keep it going for this long.
The second is really a more meaningful celebration. On 20 July 2010 the Court of Miri ruled in favour of an Iban woman Ndukmit ak Egot, widow of Enyang ak Gendang who died thirteen years ago after being shot by police in the head during a confrontation between the police and the longhouse community in Bakong.
For those who are familiar with Sarawak’s long, almost unrecognized struggle between the oil palm companies and Dayak communities who have constitutionally protected rights to their lands and territories, the Bakong incident is a low point in history. There are those of you who may wonder what our FB profile photo is about. It is a photo taken during that incident where Enyang was killed. For those of us who support Borneo INS, Enyang's death is an incident we will never forget and we would like to share this history with our readers as a reminder of how, without dialogue and respect for NCR of Dayak, how things can go so tragically wrong.
It started with the issue of a provisional lease to Empresa, an oil palm plantation company in which the native territories of the Iban community of Rumah Bangga were included. They only found out about it when two subcontractor companies, Segarakam and Prana started destroying their lands. The longhouse chief, Banggau ak Andop lodged police reports and wrote to government departments to no avail. After a month of inaction from the authorities, the villagers decided then to confiscate and remove the companies’ bulldozers to their land. They gave the keys to the police who, up to then, had continued to ignore the villagers. Unable to get their bulldozers back, the company called the police who immediately responded.
On December 18 1997, a lorry full of police arrived at the longhouse.
The Iban refused to return the machinery.
The next day, the Police Field Force returned in greater force, both in plain clothes and in uniform but without identification and armed with guns, M16 rifles and batons.
The villages thought that the police were there for a meeting to discuss compensation for the damage to their land by the companies. They gathered outside the longhouse to welcome the company and the police. A ‘miring’, a traditional welcome ceremony where offerings are made to the ancestors was held.
A case report on the incident writes 'Photographs from the site site show the people smiling and joking with each other. Villagers held a banner that said ‘Land is our life’. The banner was to act as a line over which negotiations with the company and the police officers could take place.'
The police, however, were interested only in arresting Banggau, the headman. After asking who was the leader, Banggau replied that he was. The police then rushed forward to arrest him and all Iban present. The Iban tried to prevent the arrests. At the same time the Police Field Force officer gave the orders to the other PFF officers to charge and to open fire on the unarmed villagers.
Without any warning or warning shots, three Iban were shot. Enyang ak Gendang was shot by one Corporal Hussaini bin Sulong in the head. Several Iban were beaten up with batons or punched and kicked. Several Iban were arrested.
Five days later, on December 24th Enyang Ak Gendang died in hospital where a postmortem revealed a bullet lodged inside his head. Ndukmit, the widow, had to pay for the transport to bring her husband to the hospital.
Thirty Iban were arrested over the incident and the longhouse chief was arrested again in 1998, without immediate explanation. The coroner's verdict was misadventure but the fact remained that the police had shot and killed villagers who were there to welcome the company and them to a dialogue.
Those who heard about this incident found it shocking. Internationally the death of Enyang Gendang made enough news that the Malaysian government had to account for itself to the UN Human Rights Council. The report said only that the police recommended that the company compensate the villagers for the land as they wanted originally, making no reference to who was accountable for the death. The police, at some point, also accused the Iban of being armed.
In 2000, his widow took action and filed a civil action against Corporal Hussaini, his superior and the Malaysian government. The case was heard in 2003 and there was a long silence. In 2010, it was announced that the case would finally go to trial. Yesterday, after thirteen years, justice was finally served.
While there will be a cash compensation for Ndukmit, it surely cannot be enough for the years of suffering such injustice and denial by the authorities. For many, the case was strong evidence that the authorities were not neutral in conflicts between the oil palm companies and the people. In 2010, the court cases continue to pile up and the conflicts continue. It would seem that little has changed in terms of violations of our rights. But we must never forget Enyang Gendang and honor Ndukmit Egot, Banggau Andop and their longhouse for their strength and determination to protect their land and their heritage.
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