A special court has to be set up immediately to solve the dilemma Dayak landowners face over the grabbing of their native customary rights (NCR) land by the Sarawak government, Sarawak PKR said today.
NCR land cases have increased alarmingly every year as a result of disputes between native land owners and the state government, PKR Lubok Antu Division chairperson Nicholas Bawin said.
“Up to now, there are more than 400 NCR land cases pending hearing in the High Court and more are coming as the landowners have no way to settle their disputes with the government, other than through the court.
“Moreover, the landowners are encouraged to file their legal suits against the government, especially after the government suffered several losses in the court,” Bawin (left) said.
The disputes arise when the state government leases their lands to oil palm companies that reject the people’s customary rights over the land of their ancestors.
“We support this NCR land court to solve the dilemma faced by Dayak landowners,” Bawin said.
He said this in response to a recent suggestion by the Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak, Richard Melanjun, for the setting up of a ‘dedicated court’ to deal with native customary rights (NCR) land cases that are alarmingly increasing every year.
NCR land cases 'the toughest challenge'
Justice Melanjun had said the toughest challenge facing the court in Sabah and Sarawak at the moment was the disposal of NCR land cases.
“There is now a floating idea for the setting up of a dedicated court to deal with these cases,” he said, suggesting that that more talks on NCR and related issues be organised to gain more knowledge and information to better understand NCR issues,
In supporting the suggestion, Bawin said that this ‘NCR land court’ should be given full authority to deal with the state government.
“The problem is that the Sarawak government refuses to recognise or respect the decisions of the court, even the decisions of the Federal Court.
“So this NCR land court should be empowered to cite the state government for contempt of court,” he added.
Bawin said: “The courts have declared that NCR lands should include ‘pemakai menua’ (territorial domain) and ‘pulau galau’ (reserved forests) besides the temuda (farm land), ‘tembawai’ (old longhouse sites) and ‘pendam’ (graveyards).
“But the state government insists NCR lands are confined to temuda only,” said Bawin, who is an expert witness in NCR land cases.
“This is the dilemma of the native landowners,” he added.
Commenting on the same issue, Sarawak PKR chief Baru Bian (right) said that the idea was proposed before, but had not taken off.
“This (proposal) is consistent with our proposal too, which was adopted by the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam), as reflected in their latest report.
“The suggestion is a timely reminder to our state government, which should respond positively,” said Baru, who is a lawyer representing a large number of NCR landowners in their cases against the state.
He has until now represented more than 200 cases.
Baru, who is also the Ba’Kelalan assemblyperson, has also raised the setting up of a Land Commission in Sarawak in the state assembly, but his proposal was rejected.
The Sarawak government has planted nearly one million hectares of land with oil palm, and is targeting more than 1.5 million hectares of land to be planted with oil palm by 2020.
The bulk of these lands are claimed by natives as their ancestors’ land or NCR land.
Meanwhile, PRS president James Masing (right) said that the judge was right regarding the special court to be set up to deal with NCR land cases.
“Malaysia needs a special court to deal exclusively with NCR land issues and such a court should be staffed with judges who are conversant with NCR land laws and customs.
“Delayed judgment means justice denied,” said Masing, who is the Sarawak Land Development Minister.
A manager with an oil palm company said that he supported the setting up of an NCR land court so that an early disposal of NCR land cases could be carried out.
“We should know where we stand. Now, we are neither here nor there and we are very worried,” said the manager, who did not wish to be named.
He said his company had been waiting for the case for the past five years, after having spent millions of ringgit on the land that the natives subsequently claimed as their NCR land.
“We cannot do any thing now, pending the disposal of the case,” he said and claimed there are scores of other oil palm companies that are facing the same dilemma.