NCR activist wants emergency sitting of DUN to change Land Code

File picture showing native land owners going on a hunting trip not far from their village.

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KUCHING: Having seen native customary rights (NCR) land owners lose at least seven cases in the Court of Appeal on their claims to land based on the concept of pemakai menoa (territorial domain) and pulau galau (communal forest reserve), a native land rights activist wants the government to push for an emergency meeting of the state legislative assembly to amend the state’s Land Code.

Former deputy president of the Majlis Adat Istiadat (Customary Rights Council), Nicholas Bawin, said waiting for the next sitting in November would cause more land owners to lose the rights to their lands as there are still cases to be heard in the High Court and the appellate courts.

Legal experts had predicted decisions would go against the hundreds of NCR land cases, based on the pemakai menoa and pulau galau concept that are still before the courts after the Federal Court in a pivotal decision last December ruled that the native customary rights of the native tribes people, the Dayaks, apply only to their temuda (farmland) and not to the pemakai menoa and pulau galau.

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 loss of their land had caused rising tension between NCR land owners and companies that had been given the land they claimed by the government.

Also anticipating rising anger, the state government has since set up a task force, headed by Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah, to advise the government how best to amend the Land Code, to circumvent the court ruling and appease the Dayaks who largely voted for the ruling Barisan Nasional in the last state election.

“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 today.

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 Datuk Amar 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.”

He said the government is duty-bound to protect the rights of the various indigenous communities. –