Friday, July 14, 2017

Sarawak native rights defender wants change to Land Code now

Desmond Davidson
Sarawak native rights defender wants change to Land Code now
Anger over native customary rights is coming to a boil as land owners have lost seven cases in the Court of Appeal in this week alone. – EPA pic, July 13, 2017.
THE anger of native customary rights (NCR) landowners in Sarawak is rising to a boil.

Native land rights activist, Nicholas Bawin, said the reason was that this week alone, NCR land owners have lost at least seven cases in the Court of Appeal on claims to land based on the concept of pemakai menoa (territorial domain) and pulau galau (communal forest reserve).

Bawin, a former deputy president of the state's Majlis Adat Istiadat (Customary Rights Council) said to stop the anger from boiling over, the state government must act immediately on its proposed amendment to the Land Code.

He suggested that the state government convene an emergency sitting of the state legislative assembly to pass an amendment to the Land Code rather than wait for its next sitting in November.

“Waiting for the November sitting may cause more people to lose the rights to their lands as there are still cases to be heard in the High Court and the appellate courts,” he said today.

Reversal to the hundreds of NCR land cases still before the court was expected after the Federal Court last December ruled that the native customary rights of the native tribes people, the Dayaks, apply only to their farmland (temuda) and not to the forest areas around their traditional longhouses.

The Federal Court had ruled that there was no legislation in Sarawak that gives the force of law to Dayak claims that they have NCR over virgin forests around their longhouses.

The court also ruled that the customs of pemakai menoa and pulau galau do not fall within the definition of law under Article 160(2) of the Federal Constitution when allowing an appeal by the state government in a case filed by Tuai Rumah Sandah and seven other landowners in Ulu Machan, Kanowit.

The Dayaks had long argued they have for generations practised customary rights over the pemakai menoa around their longhouses, including primary forest within that domain (pulau galau), which is usually owned by the community.

Anticipating rising anger, the state government has since set up a task force, headed by Deputy Chief Minister Douglas Uggah, to advise the government how best to amend the Land Code, circumvent the ruling and appease the Dayaks – the ruling government's vote bank.

“I am aware that an application has been filed to review the Federal Court’s decision but in view of the uncertainty of the date of hearing, and more importantly, of the outcome of that review, it is imperative that the Sarawak government act without delay to amend the Land Code so that the rights of the indigenous people to their pemakai menoa and pulau galau are recognised,” Bawin said.

He said an amendment to the Land Code would remove any uncertainty as to the recognition of the concept of pemakai menoa and pulau galau.

“I therefore humbly urge the Deputy Chief Minister Douglas Uggah, as head of the taskforce set up by the government to advise the government, to expedite the recommendations.

“This is the only way to remove all uncertainty and put to rest the fears and worries of the people,” Bawin said, adding that the government is duty bound to protect the rights of indigenous communities. – July 13, 2017.

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