Native land rights: Don’t be traitors, activist tells Sarawak lawmakers

Activist Peter John Jaban says the Orang Asal only want control over their ancestral lands. (Bernama pic)

KUCHING: A native land rights activist today urged native Sarawak lawmakers to vote wisely on a land code amendment bill lest they be seen as traitors by their people.

Peter John Jaban.

Peter John Jaban said according to press reports on the proposed Land Code Amendment Bill, due to be tabled at the sitting of the state legislative assembly from July 9-18, native landowners could expect to be disappointed “with only ‘usufructuary’ rights to ‘a native territorial domain’ remaining to them as opposed to any control over their ancestral lands”.

“It is clear from what we have seen of this amendment so far that it was not made for the people.”

He said the amendment was so full of obscure and confusing legal terminology that it appeared to be another attempt to confuse the rural landowners into submission.

He also said the native landowners only wanted control over their ancestral lands, which they had enjoyed for years.

“They want to be able to reap the benefits of the land passed to them by their forefathers and to ensure that this benefit can pass to their children.

“They want to choose how their land is used, whether for development or for preservation of their forest. They want the state government to respect their adat and to recognise their claims under that adat, which forms part of Sarawak law. Anything less than that will be considered a betrayal.”

In a statement, he said these traditional landowners remained the most impoverished and marginalised citizens in Malaysia, left without identity cards, road access, education, healthcare and basic amenities.

He said even the Sultanate of Brunei, the Brooke regime and the colonial government had never made any attempt to divest the natives of their ancestral land.

“But this seems exactly what is happening here. They throw out scraps, stating that we can ‘use’ the land, presumably until someone else decides otherwise.”

He said what the state government was proposing was a “clear assault” on the history, traditions and customary laws of the natives of Sarawak.

As such, he said, every elected representative, especially native elected representatives, who believed in social and moral justice must voice their objections in the state assembly.

Jaban, who is also founder of Sarawak for Sarawakians Solidarity and a central executive council member of the Sarawak Dayak Iban Association said: “Do our YBs want to be branded as Orang Asal Sarawak traitors? Do they want to be cursed by their future generations?

“Any unjust amendment to the land code seeking to brush this longstanding problem under the carpet will not appease the native landowners whose position is clear and simple.

“Return their rights to their ancestral lands and respect their adat. Anything that falls short of this is a betrayal of the trust put in them by the voting public. Trust must be earned and can easily be lost, especially in this new Malaysia we now all live in.”

He reminded the assemblymen and the state government that they should learn from the defeat of Barisan Nasional that governments can fall.

“The state election is only two years away and now we all know that governments can and do change. The mandate can equally be lost by the ruling party as much as it is won by the opposition.”

Jaban added that the state had “billions in reserves” but claimed very little had been spent on the rural natives.

“Perhaps it is time that some was. In fact, if money is needed to set this miscarriage of justice straight, perhaps they should look no further than the state’s richest man and the architect of the policy for the funds.

“It is time that Sarawak Governor Taib (Mahmud) himself is called to account for the misery and suffering caused by his policies.”