Adat and land rights neglected in Sarawak – Part Two

By John Riwang and Apang

Land is Life: Rights vs Adat

Colonial and statutory Native Customary Rights or NCR have been divided into land, marriage, death, usage, acquiring of rights, with a fixed time-frame (such as “before 1958”).

These “rights” are alien concepts and an alien value system, including calls for land titles and the monetary value put on lands in compensation negotiations.
The state and corporations override, and refuse to recognize, adat.

Beyond constitutional or common law rights

In logging cases, licences are issued to allow the loggers to move in and establish camps, which completely ignore any indigenous people’s rights. This leads to the destruction of life and its resources – forests, water, animals, medicine, and food sources.

The rights of the local people to adat disappear, but “rights” are exerted by loggers and governments. Thus, these “rights” which include workers’ rights, benefit the loggers and the state.

Among these “rights” are the “right” to rape and sexually abuse minors and women, following which perpetrators merely use the payment of monthly maintenance following legal or statutory institutional rights requirements;
Therefore, the whole idea of universal human rights with all their instruments, charters, and declarations do not affect the state’s and corporate “rights”.

Symptoms of deprivation of Adat
– Logging;
– Plantations;
– Loss of land;
– Alienation of communities;
– Rape;
– Arrests and imprisonment;
– Breakdown of value systems;
– Eviction and uprooting of communities; and
– Compensation based on supposed market value, grounded in the law that legalizes State acquisition of lands as long as there is compensation.

Two recent cases

The following are two recent cases to illustrate the arguments; they are certainly not the only two. In fact, cases reported previously in SUARAM’s Annual Human Rights Reports on abuses of the Sarawak indigenous communities continue to cause suffering.12 Some incidents have even involved the forceful evictions of indigenous communities from their NCR lands along the Bakun road.