Civil society groups to rally for Land Code amendment

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Source: The Malaysian Insight

A SLEW of civil society groups will hold a rally in Kuching on November 13 to pressure the Sarawak government to speed up an amendment to the state’s Land Code.

The rally, to coincide with the sitting of the state legislative assembly, follows two major court decisions that had gone against Sarawak’s Dayak landowners’ interests.

One of the rally leaders, Nicholas Mujah, who is secretary of the Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (Sadia), said the proposed site of the Perhimpunan Aman Solidarity Orang Asal (the indigenous people’s solidarity and peaceful gathering) was the waterfront, on the side of the Sarawak River opposite the state legislative assembly.

Mujah said a memorandum would be submitted to the legislature during the gathering.Though the rally would be dominated by Dayak civil society groups, a Malay rights group, Panggau, will also join them.

Panggau chairman Awang Alim Ahmad said even though the rally participants would mostly be Dayaks, Malays would join in as they, too, were experiencing similar land problems.

“It is not just the Dayak having problems. Malays and Melanaus are having problems, too,”   Awang, who is a native of the rural fishing community of Asajaya, said.

The nearly two dozen participating civil society groups include the Borneo Indigenous People Pact (BIPP), S4S Orang Asal Sarawak, Saya Anak Sarawak (SAS), Jaringan Tanah Hak Adat Bangsa Asal Sarawak (Tahabas), Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS) and the Dayak Rights Action Force (DRAF).

One of the state’s foremost native land rights activists Nicholas Bawin, said the dispute between native landowners and the government had been ongoing for the past 30 years.

He said greater awareness of their rights had led to the current agitation and, up to the end of last year, native landowners had won 90% of cases brought to court.

But two major Federal Court decisions reversed most of them.

In December last year, the Federal Court ruled that the Native Customary Rights (NCR) of the indigenous Dayak people applied only to their “temuda” (farmland) and not to forest areas, or the “pemakai menoa” (territorial domain) and “pulau galau”(communal forest reserve) around their longhouses.

The Dayaks say they have customary rights over the “territorial domain” around their longhouses, including primary forest within that domain, which is usually owned by the community. They also say that the court had not taken into consideration unwritten laws on customary practices.

Two weeks ago, the Federal Court also ruled that owners of NCR lands, whose land may have been inadvertently included in land leased by the government, could no longer claim the land although they could claim compensation for their losses.

The Federal Court, in upholding the appeals of two plantation companies, a bank, the Sarawak government and the superintendent of Lands and Survey Kota Samatahan division against a February 2012 High Court decision, sided with the four appellants’ argument that the plantation companies are protected by Section 132 of the Land Code on the indefeasibility of the lease titles that were awarded to them by the state government.

The defendants were NCR land owners of Kampung Lebor in Gedong, Serian.

The landowners’ legal counsel, See Chee How, said the ruling was tantamount to giving the state government a new way to extinguish NCR land.

The Sarawak government has formed a Pemakai Menoa and Pulau Galau Committee, headed by Deputy Chief Minister Douglas Uggah, to look into last year’s Federal Court decision and make recommendations on how the Land Code should be amended.

Uggah was, however, accused of being too slow and the promise to table the amendment at next week’s sitting could not be met.

The second Federal Court decision has also added to the delay.