Borneo natives win landmark court case over oil palm plantation
KUCHING, SARAWAK / MALAYSIA. Two days after the Malaysian police arbitrarily
destroyed the house of Iban leader Nor Nyawai and another two dozen homes at
the village of Sungai Sekabai in the East Malaysian state of Borneo, Sarawak's
natives have won two important court cases over native land issues. The cases
had been filed by the natives against the State government of Sarawak and an
oil palm company that planned to establish an oil palm plantation on native
Lawyer See Chee How of the Kuching-based law office Messrs. Baru Bian issued a
statement, according to which High Court Judge Datuk David Wond delivered two
favourable decisions in favour of a native Iban and a Malay community in
Sarawak. The court decisions in the cases Agi Ak Bungkong & Ors versus
Ladang Sawit Bintulu S/B & Others and Mohd Rambli Kawi versus Lands &
Surveys Kuching & Another were announced in Sarawak's state capital Kuching
on Thursday morning.
In both cases, the High Court Judge, Datuk David Wong, declared that the local
communities (Iban in the first and Malay in the second case) had native
customary rights over land unlawfully claimed as state land by the Sarawak
State government. In the case filed by Mohd Rambli Kawi, the Court declared
that the customary practice of Malays must be given the force of law, which is
a landmark decision. See Chee How said the court decisions were "a great
victory for the people" and that it was "a historic day for Sarawak's native
landowners". One of the crucial questions will be if the Sarawak State
government will respect these court decisions.
Indigenous leaders launch "Native Rights Action Front"
Meanwhile, emotions are going high among Sarawak natives over the destruction
of 25 homes at Sungai Sekabai, a community that had won a similar landrights
litigation in 2001. Lawyers Abun Sui and Harrison Ngau announced on Thursday
the launching of a Native Rights Action Front (NATRAF) "in view of the
continued and persistent atrocities, barbarious and inhuman action of the
Sarawak State Government against the marginalised groups, particularly the
natives or indigenous people."
The new formation comprises groups, networks and individual natives from
various places and communities throughout Sarawak and said it would "fight and
defend the rights of the natives, particularly to our ancestral lands." As
such, the group appealed on Sarawak's natives to stand up to defend "our birth
right and source of life which is our ancestral land." In particular, the group
called on the population to vote out the current Sarawak government under Chief
Minister Taib Mahmud in the upcoming state election.
"Our forefathers were prepared to take all risk and many of them even
sacrificed their very life to protect our people and our ancestral land", the
group wote. "The sacred responsibility to do so is now upon us the present
generation who had inherited what they had done and sacrificed for us."
(21 January 2010)
To access the High Court judgements, please click here.