Sadia Rajang urges oil palm plantation companies to respect customary laws, people’s rights

Bill Jugah

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By Wendy John

SIBU, Feb 19: Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (Sadia) Rajang urges oil palm plantation companies to limit and halt all activities that are in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Right (UDHR), the Federal Constitution and the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP).

According to its chairman Bill Jugah in a statement today, companies operating in any country are subject to not only to the laws of the land but also to the customary laws in their areas of operation.

He added, responsible governments need to safeguard its citizens, especially the indigenous people, and ensure that they are not exploited by the effect of capitalism. This includes redress in the event that any development plan has the effect of dispossessing indigenous people of their lands (Art. 8(2)(b) UNDRIP).

Bill emphasised that people are not sheep to be mentally herded to obey blindly and adhere to “laws” that may seem to be safeguarding them on the surface but are quietly eroding their rights, unnoticed.

He noted the plantation companies could take advantage of the readily-available manpower provided by native landowners and not resort to outside foreign labour which may be costly due to immigration levies and working permits and may even pose social and security issues to the nation.

He also called on these companies to practise profit-sharing with native landowners and not abuse the law with court verdicts that undermine and exclude them from participating in nation-building.

“Current conflicts such as in Ladang Satu Selangau, Sungai Niah Miri and Sungai Petalai Rutan Pelugau occur because there is a breakdown/lack of communication between the parties. Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) need to be obtained from all communities affected by development brought into their midst,” Bill added.

He cautioned that if all these were not done, it could lead to the loss of lives like in the case of TR Busang Nyandang in Ulu Niah in 2000, Melikin in 2014 and Ulu Arip in 2016 which stemmed from the exclusion of FPIC with the natives there.

Bill also advocated that government state land laws respect the interests of the native indigenous people and for a transparent mechanism for mediation comprising authentic native leaders because almost all land dispute cases are related to ‘adat’ (customs).

“These are ‘tanah adat’; therefore we should let any dispute in ‘tanah adat’ to be decided by adat and its leaders i.e. Temenggong and Pemancha who are elected by the people and not appointed.

“A fair, transparent and accountable government should steer clear from the customary traditions so that it is not embroiled with politics and should instead preserve the hierarchy of all traditional structure of leadership. Towards this end, we urge the government to adhere to UNDRIP Article 4 by ensuring the rights of indigenous people in self-determination, autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs by reviving the practice of conducting elections for the roles of Penghulu, Pemancha and Temenggong and other native titles,” Bill noted.

“Otherwise our nation will remain in a stagnant rut and any talks of development is superficial, mere lip-service and politicised.” — DayakDaily