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Published: Friday April 12, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Thursday April 25, 2013 MYT 11:45:58 PM

Commission recommends using New Zealand experience in state’s NCR land reforms

KUCHING: Malaysia’s Native Customary Rights (NCR) land reforms could follow tried and true models like the Waitangi Tribunal in New Zealand and also adopt flexible land grant policies in Canada, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia has suggested.

The commission has highlighted New Zealand’s tribunal, which safeguards indigenous rights and investigates past mistakes and omissions, as a model to study.

It said reforms in Malaysia should take into account “important” case studies like the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975.

The commission this week released a preliminary report, which included 18 proposals, based on its inquiry that began in December 2010, investigating the neglect of native rights in Malaysia.

Most of the 18 proposals released this week were on native land rights matters.

The commission has conducted three briefings here for non-governmental bodies, government agencies, representatives of the private sector and the media.

In the preliminary report, the commission called on state governments (land matters fall under the purview of state governments in Malaysia) to relook existing policies and to better explain customary rights to rural communities.

It said lack of awareness and understanding of NCR had led to landowners being misled in commercial deals outright.

“The low levels of native rights understanding in rural areas and the fact that most people in rural areas are of the older generation, are contributing factors to problems highlighted,” the report said.

“With fewer opportunities to earn an income independently, rural communities have become more reliant on subsidies and government handouts. Such situations allow for easier exploitation.”

Chief Assistant Secretary at Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, Jesrina Kaur Grewal, presented the preliminary report.

The preliminary report was largely based on public testimonials by people affected negatively.

About 60% of complaints the Commission received in Sarawak and Sabah were about land matters.

The commission said it was true that a significant number of rural natives had been discriminated against, with some not having rights over land their communities had laboured over for generations.

The report called for the setting up of a tribunal, mirrored upon the success of the Waitangi Tribunal, as a redress mechanism.

The commission urged for widespread reforms to the extent of returning native land to their rightful owners, if an earlier omission could be proven.

Whenever the return of the original parcel of the was impossible, the commission, called for another parcel of similar value to be granted.

In another section of the report, the commission found existing environment and social impact assessments inadequate explaining that even minor pollution to rivers and jungles had big ramifications to far-flung communities.

In a related matter, the commission also questioned state authorities over the high reliance on aerial photographs from the 1950s to determine NCR land statuses.

Its report findings claimed the aerial photographs might not be able to accurately represent land use from then and before.

Commission vice-chairman Datuk Dr Khaw Lake Tee told the briefing that the report gathered 198 testimonials, out of which, 36 were selected as case studies and representatives of larger issues.

A total of 111 interviewees had their statements recorded to illustrate the 36 case studies.

Tags / Keywords: Community, News, Government, ncr land reforms

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