Friday, January 22, 2010

Sarawak court orders oil palm company to return native land

Environment News Service: Sarawak's natives have won two important court cases over native land issues, their attorney announced this morning in the Sarawak state capital of Kuching on the island of Borneo. The cases had been filed by the natives against the government of Sarawak and an oil palm company that planned to establish an oil palm plantation on native lands.

Lawyer See Chee How of the Kuching-based law office Messrs. Baru Bian announced that High Court Judge Datuk David Wong delivered two favorable decisions in favor of a native Iban and a Malay community in Sarawak. In both cases, Judge Wong declared that the local communities have native customary rights over land unlawfully claimed as state land by the Sarawak State government.

In one of the cases, the Court declared that the customary practice of Malays must be given the force of law, which is a landmark decision. See Chee How called the rulings "a great victory for the people" and said that it was "a historic day for Sarawak's native landowners."

The Iban plaintiffs had filed a suit in 2001 against the oil palm company Ladang Sawit Bintulu and four other defendants, including the state government, seeking a declaration of native customary rights over their land. They claimed that the provisional lease issued in 1996 to oil palm company Ladang Sawit Bintulu Sdn Bhd had wrongly included their native customary land.

They argued that their native customary rights over the land had never been extinguished and therefore, the issuance of the provisional lease was illegal. In granting the Iban plaintiffs their rights to the land, the court ruled that the provisional lease over the 1,214 hectare disputed area was null and void….

Bario village in Sarawak, shot by Tuya70, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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