Malaysia: NGOs want Land Code amendment expedited

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    Dusit (fifth left) and Sidi (fourth left) co-chairing the press conference. – Photo by Churchill Edward

    KUCHING: A coalition of nine Dayak-based NGOs yesterday met to call for the government to expedite the amendment to the Sarawak Land Code (SLC) to legally recognise the definition of Pemakai Menoa and Pulau Galau.

    Their wish is that all undesirable disputes in and outside the courtroom over native land and all resentments or ill feelings among the Dayaks towards the government will end soon.

    The group that met yesterday comprised Sarawak Dayak Graduates Association (SDGA) led by Dr Dusit Jaul, Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (led by president Sidi Munan), Dayak National Congress, Persatuan Dayak Sarawak, Gempuru Besai Kristian Jaku Iban Malaysia, Dayak Right Action Force, Serian Iban Remun Association, SCRIPTS and Dayak Think Tank Group.

    They also held a press conference to deliver their joint press statement that called upon the state government to be proactive in coming up with a comprehensive solution to all NCR cases.

    “The first step that the state government must take is to issue a directive that all NCR cases that are now pending before the court must be put on hold until the amendment to the Land Code that is being worked upon is finally made into law,” the statement said.

    “The native communities whose cases are pending before the courts are still fighting their cases to defend their rights. So there is fear among the natives that the government doesn’t seem to take them seriously.

    “Now with the latest court ruling on the late Bill Kayong’s case, there is no reaction at all from the state government. With the acquittal of the alleged mastermind of the murder, the native communities are now much more angry and restless. It paints a picture that the native landowners can’t even get justice in the court.

    “The government must not fear in recognising our Pemakai Menoa. We are not against any development. What we want is that any development affecting our lands must be in compliance with the international standard – namely the standard set up under the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (or UNDRIP),” the statement added.

    When met after the press conference, Dusit said the Dayaks must be given an opportunity to look at the final draft of the amendment to the Land Code involving Pemakai Menoa drawn by a government special committee chaired by Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas.

    “This is in line with the Prime Minister’s call for the government to be citizen-centric and this incorporates the concept of inclusivity.”

    Sidi said as of last year there were 300 land dispute cases registered with the court in Sarawak and although some of them had been disposed, most of the disposed cases did not favour the natives.

    “And can you imagine the anxiety faced by the poor farmers? They are up against the government and powerful concessionaires and provisional leaseholders and are also faced with heavy financial burden to foot the bills of bringing their cases to court,” he said.

    Sidi pointed out that prior to the setting-up of Uggah’s native land committee, Dayak NGOs had held a series of talks.

    “Subsequently two memoranda were sent to Uggah’s office for his committee to study and consider. One of the memoranda was drawn up by a group of Dayak think tanks and the other by Sadia,” Sidi added.

    In a June 8 news report, Uggah was quoted as saying that he would be working very hard together with members of the Pemakai Menoa (territorial domain) and Pulau Galau (communal forest reserve) committee to come up with a decisive recommendation to ensure that the issue can be resolved once and for all.

    The committee is expected to come up with a recommendation to the state government on these two categories of Native Customary Rights (NCR) land by the end of this year, said Uggah, who is also Native Land and Regional Development Minister.

    On Dec 20, 2016, the Federal Court ruled that the native custom of Pemakai Menoa and Pulau Galau has no force of law in Sarawak.

    In a three-to-one decision, the apex court allowed the appeal by the state government and set aside the orders of the Court of Appeal and High Court that recognised native customary rights (NCR) over Pemakai Menoa and Pulau Galau.

    The Federal Court explained that although common law recognised the unregistered native customs, the state statutes and orders or proclamation made by the Rajahs and subsequently by the legislature of Sarawak did not appear to have recognised the custom or ‘Adat’ of ‘Pemakai Menoa’ and ‘Pulau Galau’.

    The respondents in the case were Tuai Rumah Sandah Tabau of Rumah Sandah in Ulu Machan, Kanowit and eight other NCR landowners. They claimed that they had customary rights over 2,712 hectares of Pemakai Menoa.

    On March 13, 2011 the Kuching High Court allowed the civil suit filed by the eight Dayak landowners against a timber company and the state government for encroaching into their native land including the Pemakai Menoa via a timber licence issued by the state to the company.

    The company argued that NCR land should be restricted to the ‘Temuda’ – any land cleared before 1958.

    On June 13, 2013, the Court of Appeal agreed with the High Court’s decision, saying that Pemakai Menoa and Pulau Galau were NCR lands.

    Source: Borneo Post