Thursday, 13 September 2012

Speak up against Sabah deforestation, royal duo told

An international NGO has urged Britain’s Prince William and his wife Catherine to go beyond diplomatic activities during their three-day visit to Malaysia, and highlight the issues of land grabbing and corruption which contribute to deforestation in Sabah.

NONEThe Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrived in Malaysia today and will begin a two-day tour to Sabah tomorrow. The official purpose of the visit is to highlight the conservation activities of the Royal Society.

In a statement issued today, international NGO Global Witness called on the royal couple to look at the systemic causes of rainforest destruction in Borneo - high level corruption and the relentless process of industrial-scale logging and conversion of forests to oil palm plantations, which had left Sabah with less than four percent of intact forest.

“This new generation of the royal family has an opportunity to highlight the real issues such as land grabbing and corruption that directly result in poverty, deforestation and human rights abuses, rather than inadvertently providing diplomatic cover - even kudos - for some of the most destructive activities on the planet,” said Tom Picken, campaign leader, forests at Global Witness.

As a fellow of the Royal Society, Prince William will visit its rainforest research centre in Danum Valley, one of Sabah’s last remaining areas of intact rainforest. 

While the centre undertakes valuable work in the field of conservation, Global Witness pointed out that one of its major projects is to research ‘best practice’ deforestation, funded by the Malaysian oil palm giant Sime Darby.

It reminded that Sime Darby is one of the world’s biggest agribusiness companies, clearing forests across South-East Asia and Liberia and the company’s ex-chief has been charged with corruption offences related to acquisition of native land in Sarawak during his time at the helm of the company.

“The Royal Society undertakes invaluable work highlighting deforestation issues, however taking money from companies at the forefront of forest destruction risks serious conflict of interest, playing into the public relations objectives of such companies rather than halting the forest destruction at the core of their business model,” said Picken.    

Global Witness is a UK-based NGO which investigates and campaigns to prevent natural resource-related conflict and corruption and associated environmental and human rights abuses.

The couple’s tour will also involve an audience with Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman who is currently under the criminal investigation by Swiss authorities over the alleged laundering of US$90 million through the Swiss bank UBS AG, said to be amassed by soliciting bribes from loggers in exchange for timber licences. 

However, he has denied the allegations.

There were calls for the royal couple to snub Musa during their visit in Sabah.

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