4 November, Kota Kinabalu: After a week of field investigations and searching discussions, the 6th Southeast Asian Conference on Human Rights and Agribusiness issued a resolution calling for moratoriums to halt the further hand out of concessions throughout the region. The meeting noted how land conflicts as a result of agribusiness expansion are proliferating and urged a pause in the hand out of licenses while community and indigenous peoples’ land rights are secured.
The meeting which just concluded in the State Capital, Sabah, also called on the Chief Minister of Sabah to heed the appeals of the communities in Pitas, whose lands have been taken over by a shrimp-pond development project leading to the destruction of mangrove forests and loss of local peoples’ livelihoods. It also called for a revision of the law on ‘communal title’, to close loopholes that are being misused to favour corporate takeovers of community lands without proper consultation and without securing consent from the communities.
The series of conferences which commenced with the ‘Bali Declaration’ in 2011 have been exploring strategies to make human rights requirements binding on agribusiness, with particular attention on transboundary investors and transnational companies. The conference did note growing government awareness of the need for improved land governance and new laws and policies to secure indigenous rights and effect agrarian reforms. The meeting also examined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil’s Jurisdictional Approach to palm oil certification which the State of Sabah is pioneering. This promising approach will apply the RSPO standard to all producers in the State. The conference made concrete recommendations on how to strengthen the process so it upholds UN principles on business and human rights and addresses the often marginalised position that indigenous peoples and local communities have with government agencies in local and sub-national areas.
The meeting included representatives from the six South East Asian Human Rights Commissions, regional and national human rights organisations, prominent private sector organisations and NGOs, as well as indigenous peoples and community representatives. It was hosted by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) and the Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (the Network of Indigenous Peoples of Malaysia) with the Forest Peoples Programme. A full report of the meeting can be found here.