SUARAM: 2017 a disappointing year for Sarawak natives

SUARAM's 'Malaysia Human Rights Report 2017: Civil and Political Rights' report was released today.

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KUCHING, June 19: Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) deems 2017 as a disappointing year for Sarawak natives as they lost three significant native customary rights (NCR) land cases.

In its ‘Malaysia Human Rights Report 2017: Civil and Political Rights’ report, SUARAM states that the Federal Court ruled in favour of the Sarawak Forestry Department and Land Custody and Development Authority (LCDA) in all three cases.

“In March, natives from Kelabit, Lun Bawang and Penan tribes lost their native customary rights land to Ravenscourt Sdn Bhd, Billion Venture Sdn Bhd, Limba Jaya Timber Sdn Bhd, Kubang Sri Jaya Sdn Bhd, director of Forests Sarawak, and the Sarawak government.

“The Federal Court held in favour of the defendants because six landowners resettled in another area,” said the report.

It pointed out that Chief Justice Arifin Zakaria, after citing precedence, held that whatever NCR native land that was created or acquired would have been lost once they are abandoned. Justice Arifin also instructed the native claimants to pay RM10,000 to each of the timber companies.

In the second case, the Federal Court in Kuching upheld the appeal by LCDA, TH Pelita Sadong Sdn Bhd, TH Pelita Gedong Sdn Bhd, the Sarawak government, and RHB Islamic Bank Bhd against the 2014 decision of the High Court, which had ordered NCR land belonging to residents of Kg Lebor in Gedong to be excised from the provisional leases the state government had given to the two plantation companies.

“The decision was delivered on October 13, 2017, and left the natives at a loss after two decades of legal battles when the Federal Court agreed with the state government and LCDA that the Sarawak Land Code protects the indefeasibility of the lease title, i.e. the lease title cannot be defeated even if it is shown that NCR had been created over the land.

“However, the apex court ordered the state government and the superintendent of the Land and Survey Department Samarahan Division to pay compensation.”

The third court case involves Iban landowners losing their land to palm oil development companies.

“The Ibans in Pantu, Sri Aman, who brought a civil action against the Sarawak government 12 years ago over an NCR land dispute, lost their case in the Federal Court. The court recognised that the 600 hectares of disputed land were NCR land owned by the native people.

“However, it ruled that the agreement between the state government and the developer was valid even though the natives of the NCR land did not consent to the development project.”

The judge also ordered the authorities to regularise the compulsory acquisition of the NCR land from the landowners and a local inquiry to be held to identify the rightful owners who are to be paid compensation, stated the report. — DayakDaily