No end in sight to Dayak land rights dispute in Sarawak

Desmond Davidson

Sarawak PKR chief and Ba Kelalan assemblyman Baru Bian says he has been reliably informed that no amendments are being drafted to change to Land Code to circumvent a court decision declaring that native customary practices do not have force of law in the state. – Facebook pic, October 6, 2017.

SARAWAK’S indigenous native landowners could be in for more disappointment as an anticipated change to the state’s Land Code at next month’s legislative assembly session is unlikely to take place.

The amendment to the Land Code is required to circumvent last year’s Federal Court decision that native customary practices to land claims of “pemakai menoa” (territorial domain) and “pulau galau” (communal forest reserve) did not have force of law in Sarawak.

“(There’s been) No hint of a tabling to amend the Land Code,” Baru Bian, a legal expert on native land rights, told The Malaysian Insight.

“I’ve also been reliably told that no amendment had been drafted,” he said.

The state legislative assembly will sit from November 8 to 17 to pass the state budget for next year, and one bill certain to be tabled is for the establishment of the Sarawak Multimedia Authority.

Yesterday, Baru, who is the state PKR chief and Ba Kelalan assemblyman, discussed the issues of native land claims with Deputy Chief Minister Douglas Uggah, to whom Bian was paying a courtesy call.

“We registered our concern on the ‘pemakai menoa’ issue. If they want our input we can give our views. He’s open so I will send my opinion soon for their consideration,” Baru said.

Baru was accompanied by Batu Lintang assemblyman See Chee How and Krian assemblyman Ali Biju.

Uggah heads the Pemakai Menoa and Pulau Galau (PMPG) Committee set up by the state government to study how the Land Code should be amended

Two days ago, a group of native landowners in Miri lost a legal battle to claim such lands, adding to the Dayak community’s anxiety at the loss of their communal rights and practices due to the Federal Court decision last December.

Their territorial domain and communal forest reserve lands were alienated by the state government to a oil palm plantation company.

Wellie Henry Majang, the founder of a Dayak think-tank, had then ominously predicted that the issue “would not be ending soon”.

He claimed the PMPG not have a solution even after nine months of research.

“The Dayak are very, very angry,” native land rights activist Nicholas Bawin said.

“I cannot describe to you how angry they are,” Bawin, who attended the Miri case, said.

“How do you tell the native landowners that their way of life, their customary practices of 200, 300 years, long before any legislature or courts were established in Sarawak, have no force of law and therefore they cannot make all those claims?

“Our rights and practice to such claims were established before any legislature. Now they are being taken away and they tell us we have no rights.”

Bawin said the Dayak landowners who have cases before the courts could lose as long as the Land Code is not amended.

“I have been advised by lawyers to ask for a postponement on the  hearing of the cases until after the amendment.

“I told them ‘no’. We fight.”

Last June, a coalition of nine Dayak non-governmental organisations  asked the state government to direct the state attorney-general to put all native customary rights to land cases on hold while the  Land Code was being amended.

“I say we fight until we, the Dayak, have all our rights back,” the defiant Bawin said. – October 6, 2017.

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