Sarawak Natives Allowed To Fight Land Claim

(Bernama) – PUTRAJAYA – Two groups of indigenous people from Sarawak successfully obtained the green light from the Federal Court here today to challenge the Sarawak state laws on native customary rights land.

Chief Justice Zaki Azmi, presiding over a three-man panel, unanimously allowed their application for leave to appeal against the decision of the Court of Appeal which rejected their appeals.

The natives had respectively brought their matter to court, seeking a declaration that the directive made by the Minister for Resource Planning in Sarawak to extinguish their native customary rights on lands occupied by them, were void and a violation of the Federal Constitution.

The directive stated that the native customary rights that might be claimed or had subsisted over the land occupied by the natives would be extinguished and the lands would revert to the Sarawak Government.

Following today’s decision, the highest court in the land fixed April 28 to hear the appeal.

The Federal Court will determine a novel legal question — whether Section 5 (3) and (4) of the Sarawak Land Code (relating to the acquisition to native land) was ultra vires Article 5 of the Federal Constitution (right to life), read together with Article 13 (right to property) of the Federal Constitution.

Section 5 (3) stipulates that any native customary rights may be extinguished by direction issued by the Minister of Resource Planning in Sarawak which shall be published in the Gazette and one newspaper circulating in Sarawak and exhibited at the notice board of the District officer for the area where the land, over which such rights are to be extinguished, is situate.

The panel, which also comprises Federal Court judges Zulkifli Ahmad Makinuddin and Md Raus Sharif, heard the leave application brought by two groups in two separate cases.

The first case was brought by Bato Bagi, Bit Buneng, Siring Angah, Adem Anyie, Jating Ibau and Ngajang Midin, representing five longhouses in Ulu Balui, Belaga District, Kapit Division in Sarawak which were affected by the construction of the Bakun Hydro-Electric Dam Project.

They are natives of the Dayak communities from the Kayan, Kenyah and Ukit ethnic groups.

The second case was by the Iban community, Jalang ak Paran and Kampong anak Amih, residents of Rumah Munggu, a longhouse in Tatau, Bintulu, Sarawak over land in Ulu Batang Tatau, which was acquired to build a pulpwood mill.

Both groups have challenged the extinguishment of their native customary right over land.

They respectively lost in their bid, both at the Kuching High Court and at the Court of Appeal, which ruled in favour of the Sarawak Government that the minister’s direction was valid.