Filed under: Dams, Indigenous People, Land, Logging, Media Reports, Oil Palm, Pulp & Paper
The Borneo Post, 13 August 2008
KUCHING: The state government will seriously consider the various recommendations made in a newly-released report by Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) pertaining to land rights and issues.
Land Development Minister Dato Sri Dr James Masing said yesterday he concurred with researcher Dr Ramy Bulan, who was commissioned by Suhakam to prepare the report, that certain land issues could not be solved using the current law.
“That is why this research looked into that, on whether we can review some of the canons of the law regarding land to make it more applicable in settling issues,” he said to reporters after launching the report titled ‘Legal Perspectives On Native Customary Land Rights In Sarawak’.
Earlier, Masing in his speech said the Sarawak Land Code 1958, which governed the creation of native titles, had gone through several amendments in 1996 and 2000.
“In some of the amendments, native rights to land ownership in accordance to their customary practices may have been eroded.
“It is this aspect of erosion through legislative process which puts pressure on the authorities to review their decisions on the matter,” he added.
Masing said the government was highly appreciative of Suhakam’s effort in producing the report, as it was indeed right and proper that Suhakam assisted the government in a matter which was both critical and sensitive.
“Most of Suhakam’s members are public figures in their own profession. Suhakam’s expertise will be of great help in mediating over sensitive issues such as rights over land,” he said.
Masing also took the opportunity during the speech and the press conference later to hit back at people who wrongly wrote reports about the government and those who were not genuinely interested in solving the land issues.
Firstly, Masing reminded writers of a report entitled Land Is Life (by Marcus Colchester, Wee Aik Pang, Wong Meng Chu and Thomas Jalong) that his ministry would not enter into any NCR land for the purpose of planting oil palm or any other commercial crops unless invited to do so.
“In short, we will not force ourselves to develop their NCR land prior to consent given by the land owners. Even if we are invited, it is compulsory for each and every land owner who wishes to participate in the NCR new concept of land development to sign separate consent forms.
“Therefore, the question of ‘lack of respect for customary rights, absence of the principle of free, prior and informed consent, or people’s right to choose for themselves on what to plant and how to do it’, does not arise,” he said.
Later, at the press conference, Masing said there were certain people who were only interested to bring up land issues in the media for the sake of publicity and personality mileage.
He pointed out that land issues must be solved by people who were genuinely interested in doing it and not by people who did it for the sake of being champions of the natives.
He said he had also come across ‘naughty’ people who further complicated matters and created a lot of fuss by claiming rights over land that was not rightfully theirs.
“There are people who do not want it to end and keep it going to the media but there are people in the government who are doing it away from the glare of the media and wanting this to end and are finding the solution,” he said.
To a question by reporters, he said encroachment by illegal loggers on native land was also a problem and he urged the relevant authorities such as the police and Forestry Department to act on complaints.
“We have received reports that illegal logging happens quite a lot in Bintulu Division. The authorities concerned should act and do something about this,” he said.
According to the statement prepared by Suhakam, it has received numerous complaints from various indigenous groups in Sarawak on land issues.
Since the establishment of Suhakam’s office in Sarawak in the year 2000, a total of 158 of the 287 complaints received since then were related to native customary rights to land.
As such, Suhakam has commissioned Dr Ramy, who is also an associate professor from the Faculty of Law, Universiti Malaya, to carry out the research and prepare the report which eventually became Legal Perspectives On Native Customary Land Rights In Sarawak.
Dr Ramy, a Kelabit, did the research together with a student of American Indian (tribe of USA) origin Amy Locklear. She also presented a talk on Indigenous People and Land Rights: National and International Perspectives after the launching of the report.
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