Iban Land Rights Snatched Once More

Twelve Sarawakians from the Iban community in Pantu, Sri Aman who brought a civil action against the Sarawak government 12 years ago over a Native Customary Rights (NCR) land dispute lost their case today at the Federal Court.

The apex court allowed the government’s appeal after the High Court and Court of Appeal ruled in the Iban community’s favour in 2011 and 2014 respectively.

According to the plantiffs’ lawyer Dominique Ng, the said property in question which measures about 600ha was granted NCR status in 1954.

Ng, who appeared with lawyer and former Sarawak deputy chief minister Daniel Tajem, said so far the indigenous communities in Sarawak have lost three cases, including this one.

He added that they had the strongest chance of winning this case because the land had been gazetted as NCR land.

The 12 plaintiffs were claiming rights over a stretch of NCR land which had been planted with oil palms.

Our comment

The present regime (as Najib Razak describes his own government) has got matters nicely sorted in the law courts – that’s according to the majority of Malaysia’s own lawyers, who have been protesting the undue influence over appointments.

What has become clear is that the top judges are now to be relied upon to do what “the regime” requires, whether or not the High Court, or in this case even the Appeal Court, have found otherwise.

The Prime Minister has even unconstitutionally engineered the extension of the present Chief Justice beyond his retirement date, despite wholesale opposition by the legal profession, placing a nail in the coffin of any independence of the judiciary in cases where powerful politicians hold an interest.

In this manner the opposition leader, acquitted by the High Court, has been jailed for political reasons and the outrageous further gerrymandering of constuency boundaries, thrown out by the High Court, has been allowed.

However, the most tragic victims of this abuse of justice are the poorest litigants, like the native landowners of Sarawak. These Iban folk have seen their lands snatched for a pittance by the loggers and oil palm growers, like hundreds of thousands of other native people.  Behind those concessionaires are the greedy politicians, who have benefitted from these land grabs most.

The villagers in this latest land case to be over-turned by the Federal Court have been forced to wait for 12 years in their attempt to make their case, as their vindication in the High Court was inexorably wiped out by the crony judges higher up the ladder.  All that time they held out and funded their case from their meagre resources in the hope of seeing justice and of setting a precedent to protect their people and and their children in the vicious battle to snatch their land.

They will now join the queie of people who have finally lost confidence in Malaysian justice. The lesson must surely be that you cannot fund an expensive law case on the one hand yet at the same time sell your vote for a cheap bag of rice to the politicians, who are influencing the appointments of judges.

Because it is only the vote that can restore justice now.

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