Sarawak PKR rep says court decision does not answer land rights issue

See Chee How says the majority decision to dismiss the review on “technical” grounds was a huge disappointment. (Facebook pic)

KUCHING:Batu Lintang assemblyman See Chee How said today he agreed with Works Minister Baru Bian that the Federal Court decision on native land has left unanswered the question of whether the Pemakai Menoa and Pulau Galau has the force of law.

See said although the majority decision to dismiss the review on “technical” grounds was a huge disappointment, the courts were the right arbiters to interpret the law.

He said this decision would stand until another panel of the Federal Court boldly made a decision “in conformity with the rest of the world to uphold the basic and inherent rights of the indigenous populace of Sarawak, under universal and common law principles”.

See said this in response to the 4-1 majority Federal Court ruling yesterday rejecting a bid by Iban communities from two villages in Sarawak to review an earlier ruling that their native custom had no force of law in the state.

Following yesterday’s decision, Baru Bian said: “With this review dismissed, it means the issues which we hoped to clarify and determine, which is whether pemakai menoa (territorial domain) and pulau galau (communal forest reserves) have the force of law, remain unanswered.”

Chief Judge of Malaya Azahar Mohamed and Federal Court judges Alizatul Khair Osman Khairuddin, Idrus Harun and Mohd Zawawi Salleh were in the majority while Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak David Wong Dak Wah dissented.

The applicants had complained that the 3-1 majority ruling in December 2016 that originally dismissed their appeals was flawed as none of the judges had Bornean experience. They said this violated Paragraph 26 (4) of the Inter-Governmental Committee (IGC) Report 1962 read with Article 8 of the Malaysia Agreement.

However, Azahar said there was no reason to depart from the Federal Court decision in Keruntum Sdn Bhd vs Director of Forests & Ors, as decided in December 2017.

The apex court held then that it was not necessary to have judges from both territories as members of the Federal Court bench when it hears appeals from Sabah and Sarawak.

On Dec 20, 2016, the court had said there was no legislation in Sarawak that gave natives the force of law to claim customary rights over virgin forests around their longhouses.