SOS Sarawak - 30 Years...time to share the story

Dear Friends, 

My friend Nitya called me recently to remind me that it's been almost 30 years since SOS Sarawak - a non-violent direct action to bring attention to the destruction of the rainforests in solidarity with indigenous peoples, exported to feed consumer appetites for cheap tropical timber. 8 of us 'global citizens' climbed cranes loading logs onto ships bound for Japan and ended up spending 2 months in jail in the Sarawak town of Miri.

It's a big story. A good story. A sad story. 

We were (are) right all along, we were speaking the truth - even as naive and idealistic were to hope that change would come.  Maybe it's still coming...Anyway, at the very least we thought it may be worth recording and  sharing this story with our children (especially when they ask us what we did to save the Earth). 

By some miracle, the termites didn't munch into the box of papers I had stashed away in the leaky caravan at the back of our land and I'm just starting to enter in some of the words again. 


SOS Sarawak, Mission Statement

29 June 1991

The biological and ecological value of tropical forests for the entire planet and the global consequences on deforestation transcend political boundaries and short term economies. 
We feel a responsibility as individuals that transcends our countries of origin to expand beyond our narrow perspectives of the current balance of power. This is not eco-colonialism; it is the recognition that all of us share an equal responsibility for the world's environmental problems, not only for our generation, but for all generations to come. 

We are by no means "against" Malaysia or Sarawak; we are for all life. 

The so-called 'developed' countries, whose own timber industries have laid waste to virtually all their own original forest cover, have since turned to the tropical regions for their timber supplies. In Thailand, the Philippines and even peninsular Malaysia and Sabah, the legacy of destructive logging is an obvious cause for alarm. Dry, eroded areas resembling deserts, degraded secondary  forests and exotic monocultures replace pristine, irreplaceable tropical forests. These degradations of the original forests can no longer sustain the original diversity of species, nor the survival of the native species. 

In pointing out the destruction in Sarawak, we by no means condone the logging of native forests elsewhere; we rahter acknowledge the role of Sarawak as a window to the global situation, It cannot be denied that, as the functions of native forests are global, the timber trade also extend far beyond the confines of the exporting nations.

In Sarawak and on an international scale the timber industry continues to perpetuate a number of myths which have been shown to be false:

* It is not the activities of native people (who clear small plots of land for farming, leaving the majority of the forest intact), who are responsible for destroying the forests in Sarawak. It is the timber industry itself which is responsible, carrying out the fastest rate of logging in the world. 

* The myth of 'sustainable' logging in Sarawak has been thoroughly exposed by high level international missions (eg, the 1989 ITTO study mission headed by Lord Cranbrook). The missions' recommendations were agreed to in principle by the Malaysian government. Although advised to reduce log exports to 9 million cubic metres per year, a recent announcement indicated that exports from Sarawak rose to 18 million cubic metres per year. The Minister for Primary Industries, Lim Keng Yaik, has since stated that this level can be sustained for the next three years before any export reduction in what he refers to as a "well managed timber industry". 

*The myth that the benefits of logging reach the entire population of Sarawak is a blatant attack on the traditional landowners. Most of these people have never agreed with indiscriminate logging on their land and have consistently indicated this, as they do now, by erecting blockades and lodging other forms of opposition to logging. 

Holders of logging concessions (often politicians and their relatives) and the timber companies themselves receive the majority of the profits from this exploitation. The bulk of the estimated 50 000 employees of the logging industry receive paltry wages and work in extremely dangerous conditions in an industry that may only be viable in its current state' "for another 5 years". It is clear to every visitor in Sarawak that basic services (such as adequate roads and social services) are in a shocking state - despite the huge profits being made in the timber industry and the oil industries alike. 

The hundred million year old forests that still exist in Sarawak cannot be valued merely in short term profits. We urge the timber industry not to be controlled bu the voracious appetites of importing countries for tropical timber, when it can be seen that this timber is used in extremely wasteful ways. In Japan, the largest importer of tropical timber from Sarawak, one of the main uses of this timber is in disposable concrete formwork panels. 

We support legitimate initiatives for value added timber and forest products, even to the extent of encouraging compensation for that which has already been wastefully destroyed. Although we point out that there has not been a single example of sustainable logging in tropical forests which provide greater benefits to the people (such as the use of small portable sawmills). 

We support the sustainable harvesting and marketing of alternative forest products, as wella s encouraging ecological tourism and medicinal research, provided that it is carried out under the direction of the local people and the benefits are fairly shared by all.

Whilst we freely admit and condemn the terrible conditions for the indigenous people of our own countries of origin, and pledge our support for their struggle for self-determination and land rights, we also recognise the extreme conditions of the natives of this land, particularly the conditions now faced by the Penan tribe. If the Malaysian government has condemned human rights violations of indigenous peoples of other countries, it does seem paramount that the Malaysian and Sarawak governments (???) and respect the rights of native peoples for habe looked after this land before the Malaysian and Sarawak governments ever came into existence. 

We call for an immediate moratorium of the rade of tropical timber from primary forests. In addition we demand: 

*That the family dipterocarps, unique to South-East Asia, should be protected under the convention of the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)

* That the industrialised world must pay the cost of preserving the remaining forest (demarcation, compensation and native species regeneration). 

* That the basic human rights of the native peoples, such as the rights to land and their traditional lifestyles, are recognised in law and respected by the Malaysian and Sarawak governments.

Further we pledge that the international environmental and human rights activists will continue to campaign until native demands are met. 

Our purpose in this visit to Sarawak is a culmination of many years of the local and international outcry over the needless ongoing destruction and the resulting effects on the people and the forest. We mean to highlight a situation which, while perhaps already too late for many, we can no longer accept. 

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