MIRI: More than 20 native social rights groups and two dozen community leaders have said a big “no” to the proposed move by the Sarawak government to table a Bill to amend the Sarawak Land Code in the coming state assembly sitting.
Together with leaders of the national-level Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS), the groups gathered in Miri on Thursday night to jointly protest the proposed amendment.
After a dialogue, JOAS and the native associations held posters with wordings saying that they strongly opposed the proposed move by the state to amend the Land Code.
Baram Peoples Action Committee (BPAC) is one of the native social rights groups that were at the meeting.
Others included Save Sarawak Rivers, Society for Rights of Indigenous Peoples of Sarawak, Tanah Hak Bangsa Asal Sarawak and those who represented the Iban, Melanau, Orang Ulu, Bidayuh and Malays.
BPAC chairman Philip Jau, when interviewed by The Star, said the groups rejected the proposed amendments as it would dilute the rights of the natives towards control of their native land.
“When the state government announced the proposed amendment (last year), we natives were hopeful that this coming state assembly sitting will give legal recognition to Native Customary Rights (NCR) on communal land that Sarawak natives call ‘pemakai menoa’ and ‘pulau galau’ (common boundary shared land).
“Today, we studied a draft of the Bill on the amendment that will be tabled in the coming state assembly sitting.
“We are unhappy with the Bill as it will erode our rights even further on pemakai menoa and pulau galau.
“This long outstanding issue must be resolved and the coming state assembly sitting in Kuching is the platform to do so.
“However, this Bill is not good for natives as it will dilute our rights even further.
“The Bill does not agree with our traditional definition on the extent of pemakai menoa and pulau galau,” he said.
Jau said the natives were frustrated by the continuous delays from the state government in settling the issue that has dragged on for decades.
“We natives want to see the state assembly amend provision 81 of the Sarawak Land Code during this current sitting to give legal recognition to our NCR land called pemakai menoa and pulau galau based on our definitions as we know best our own land boundaries.
“The state government has made so many promises in the past to settle this issue but until now there has been no resolution.
“They must settle this. The state government must listen to the NCR experts throughout Sarawak to settle outstanding disagreements over interpretations of the NCR boundary demarcation and other administrative issues,” he stressed.
Jau said this was an opportune time for state leaders and NCR experts to come together to have a comprehensive agreement.
“In Sarawak, there are still too many NCR disputes and controversies, especially in the rural areas.
“The state government must take more concrete steps to resolve these woes and state leaders need to listen to the views of NCR experts.
“These NCR experts are legal brains on native rights, academicians, historians, senior community leaders, representatives of native organisations and also politicians who are familiar with native land issues,” he said.
Jau said local human rights groups and environmental activists expressed a common stance that the Sarawak state government has made little progress in terms of advancing natives rights over land ownership in Sarawak.
“On record, there are still hundreds of cases pending in the courts involving land disputes between native communities and land development agencies, private plantations and logging companies.
“The state has done little to resolve these cases and there are more such land disputes developing all over the state.
“The state has not done enough to consult the natives on the interpretation involving native customary terms such as pulau galau and pemakai menoa.
“As it is now, there are still too many NCR disputes and unresolved cases, with many dragging on for years,” he said.
Jau said his group would be keeping a close eye on the upcoming state assembly sitting.