LONDON, May 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A village
leader from Borneo urged Japan on Wednesday to stop building its
Olympic stadium with cheap timber that he says is obliterating
traditional life for his indigenous people.
Bilong Oyoi, whose Penan people live in Borneo's Malaysian
rainforests, handed a petition of 140,000 signatures to Tokyo's
embassy in Bern, Switzerland, demanding it halt use of
deforestation-linked tropical timber in its Olympic venues.
Japan is hosting the games in 2020 with a wooden latticed
stadium, now under construction, as the dramatic centerpiece.
But last month, a group of charities said some timber came
from a Malaysian logging giant that is accused of deforestation
and human rights violations, in breach of Japan's pledge to hold
a sustainable Olympics and design a truly green stadium.
Oyoi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation he hoped Japanese
officials would understand that by using cheap timber, they were
contributing to the death of traditional life for indigenous
groups in Sarawak state, on the Malaysian part of Borneo island.
"We lost our livelihoods because the water is polluted by
the logging. The situation is becoming worse and worse. Because
of the logging it is now very difficult to hunt and fish and to
survive," Oyoi said by telephone.
"Our wish is that this petition be accepted by Japan and
that they stop importing timber from Sarawak that encroaches the
land of the Penan and indigenous people," he added.
Japan's Sport Council (JSC), the government body in charge
of building Olympic venues, and the International Olympic
Committee did not immediately respond to questions.
Wednesday's petition followed an investigation by charities
in April that twice found plywood from a Borneo sawmill at the
construction site of the wooden stadium. At that time, the JSC
said tropical timber was being used but that it met
certification standards agreed by Japan's Olympic organisers.
On April 27, Olympic authorities told a group of seven
environmental and rights organisations, including Global Witness
and Rainforest Action Network, that timber came from a plywood
mill in Bintulu, Sarawak.
The mill sources timber from areas that are subject to an
ongoing lawsuit by indigenous communities over violations to
their customary right to land, said the charities in their
statement on Wednesday.
Penan leaders were invited to Switzerland by a Basel-based
rainforest charity, Bruno Manser Fund, to raise awareness of
rights abuses in Sarawak.
The Olympic organisers agreed sourcing rules prior to the
construction to ensure a sustainable games in 2020.
But Rainforest Action Network said a provision in the code
exempted certain types of cheap plywood used to shape concrete,
like the timber found in the stadium site.
Rights groups have demanded an overhaul of procurement and
an investigation into the legality and sustainability of
Tokyo's Olympic stadium will be constructed around an
unusual set of wooden lattices - a design conceived by architect
Kengo Kuma to harmonise with a forest of oak and camphor trees
surrounding the nearby Meiji shrine in the Japanese capital.
Japan's government has said the wooden design was chosen
over competing proposals due to its fast construction time and
sensitivity to the environment.
(Reporting by Matthew Ponsford, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths.;
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