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Thursday March 15, 2012

Suhakam: No solution to native land rights issue yet

MIRI: Controversies over native land rights in Sarawak are still raging with no solution in sight due to a mighty clash of minds with regards to the interpretation of the term “native rights” between the state government and the natives.

Logging firms, oil palm plantations, agricultural estates, and government land development agencies are entangled in the mess because of their forays into these disputed regions.

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) reached this conclusion after a thorough public inquiry in Sarawak, which ended in Miri City yesterday.

Suhakam chairman Tan Sri Hasmy Agam, Commissioner Detta Samen (for Sarawak), Commissioner James Nayagam and Commissioner Jennie Lesimbang (for Sabah) concluded during the end of their panel hearing that Suhakam had gathered overwhelming evidences that pointed to this clash of views between the state authorities and the native communities.

Hasmy, at a press conference yesterday, said the state government had its definition of native land rights, while the natives have their own criteria.

There is a need for the state and the natives to come to a meeting of minds and hearts if they wanted amicable solutions. In this Suhakam is willing to help draw up solutions acceptable to all, he said.

“This national inquiry we have carried out in Sarawak on the land rights of the indigenous people have been very meaningful. The public hearing has enabled everyone to gain a more comprehensive insight into the many problems related to native land rights. We have given every side to give their testimonies in a sincere and honest manner, and also under oath.

“Dozens of villagers came to testify. They told us their side of the issues; why they are so aggrieved by the encroachment and trespass on land they said belonged to them and their ancestors.

“Government agencies also came forward and their heads and representatives had given their sides of the issue.

“Logging companies, oil palm companies and other land development agencies also sent their officials to testify and gave their explanations. We in the panel will not make any judgment or conclusion as to who is right and wrong. We are not here to judge anyone.

“We are here to give all parties a chance to be heard fairly and openly. From all we have heard, it is clear that there are major differences in the way the state government defines native rights and the way the native communities define that term. Both sides have different criteria to interpret that term. Suhakam will compile a report on what we have found here in Sarawak and submit it to the Federal and state governments, with a copy each to Parliament and the State Legislative Assembly.

“The MPs and the state assemblymen will have a chance to look at the report and debate it. Suhakam will also come up with recommendations to the state government on how best to resolve the land rights issue,” he said.

Hasmy said Suhakam would come up with proposals that would hopefully help resolve the land rights woes in Sarawak for the immediate term, medium term and long term.

He said the immediate term proposals would include recommendations on how the natives and state could cooperate to reach a win-win situation in developing and preserving native land.

“The medium-term solutions will cover aspects like delicate issues over the rights of specific parties in land development projects.

“The long-term solutions will require amendments and upgrading of existing laws and regulations so that every side will get fair protection of their rights. For these to be achieved, it will require the close cooperation of all sides,” he stressed.

Hasmy said Suhakam would also meet community leaders and the state secretariat to discuss the findings of the public inquiry.

He said the inquiry had been an eye-opener and had given Suhakam had a clearer understanding of the plight of the natives.

Suhakam will carry out similar public inquiries in Sabah and the peninsula states after this, he said.

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