News: Pakatan Harapan Opposes Amendment To Sarawak Land Code

Jul 12, 2018

A contentious amendment to Sarawak’s Land Code has been tabled at the state assembly on Wednesday (11 July), reported Bernama.

This is a historic moment for the natives of Sarawak as the issue over native land rights will finally be resolved, said Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister Douglas Uggah Embas, adding that the new law will allow the issuance of perpetual native communal titles to indigenous communities to safeguard their territorial domains.

In other countries, he claimed that indigenous communities are given usufructuary rights over their land, meaning natives have common ownership over the land as long as the property is not damaged or destroyed. They are also not allowed to sell the land.

But the amendment will give legal recognition and proprietary right to the customary land of Sarawak natives.

Uggah noted that one of the amendment’s main features is that right to land ownership may be created by natives by accessing an area within or adjacent to their native customary land, created under the Land Code’s Section 5, if the “usufructuary rights” were exercised by the natives prior to 1958.

“The term ‘usufructuary’ is merely descriptive of the customs and practices which would be legally recognised by the amended provisions to establish ownership rights to a territorial domain.”

“The customs and practices described under the definition of ‘usufructuary rights’ are similar to the customs of ‘pemakai menoa’ and ‘pulau’ of the Iban community. These customary practices are now given recognition under the term ‘usufructuary rights’,” he added.

However, Pakatan Harapan’s Ba Kelalan assemblyman Baru Bian argued that in other developed countries, there had been important court decisions ruling that indigenous communities right over their land is more than usufructuary.

For instance, in the US, Indians were able to build commercial properties in their land like hotels and casinos, and they were able to profit from the oil and gold found in their territories.

He pointed out that in Section 6A (1) of the bill, usufructuary rights is only defined as “rights or privileges exercised or enjoyed by a native community over a native territorial domain to forage for food including fishing and hunting.”

Another issue with the amendment is that Section 6A (2) limits the area of native territories to 500ha only.

“It’s our stand that our native customary rights land or Pemakai Menua and Pulau Galau cannot be restricted or limited to an area defined by the authority.”

“We have won cases where the latter extend beyond 10,000ha. Limiting the size is unjust, unfair and immorally wrong,” he told the Borneo Post.

Image sourced from Bernama

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