KUCHING: Ten NGOs have taken the position that the Federal Court decision on a native customary rights (NCR) case earlier this week is not the solution to native land issues in Sarawak.
“It will only create further conflict between the indigenous communities, the private sector and the authorities,” said the NGOs in a joint statement posted in the Sarawak Times whatsApp Group.
The decision clearly shows the judges were not well versed in Adat (customary law), it added.
The NGOs were commenting on the case of Tuai Rumah Sandah Anak Tabau v the Director of Forest and Government of Sarawak.
The Federal Court ruled on Tuesday that Adat, customary law, had force of law only on temuda (cultivated land), but not over two other NCR lands i.e. pemakai menoa (territorial domain) and pulau galau (communal forest).
The NGOs made had four points in the statement:
First, the judiciary should review the decision, and that the new panel of judges should be balanced with senior judges from Sabah and Sarawak;
Second, that all lawmakers, irrespective of political affiliation, and community leaders, uphold, defend and protect Adat. “This is their sacred duty,” said the NGOs. “They must not fail the community.”
Third, the Sarawak Assembly must immediately pass a motion to amend existing laws to incorporate pemakai menoa and pulau galau as having the same NCR status as temuda.
In short, if Adat is considered as having the force of law on temuda land, it will likewise place customary law as having the force of law on pemakai menoa and pulau galau; and
Finally, the NGOs want to unite with the Orang Asal to demand the Sarawak and Malaysian governments respect, recognise, restore and protect native rights including Adat, customary rights to lands, and resources.
Pemakai menoa and pulau galau have contributed to the conservation of the forest, said the NGOs. “This right has now been taken away.”
The forest and customary lands are now open to widespread indiscriminate commercial exploitation, they cautioned.
Under the swidden agricultural concept, the Orang Asal rotate the cultivated areas, and thereby replenish the fertility of the soil.
“It’s not possible to continuously farm temuda land,” said the statement. “That’s why pemakai menoa and pulau galau are also important to the natives.”
The statement was supported by Jaringan Tanah Hak Adat Bangsa Asal Sarawak (Tahabas), Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (Joas), Save Sarawak Rivers Network (Save Rivers), Gerakan Anak Sarawak (Gasak) and Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (Sadia).
Other NGOs were: Borneo Resources Institute, Malaysia (Brimas), Sarawak Indigenous Lawyers Alliance (Sila), Communities Information and Communication Centre (Cicom), Baram Protection Action Committee (BPAC), and Integrated Development for Eco-friendly and Appropriate Lifestyle (Ideal). -FMT