KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 8 — The Federal Court dismissed an appeal to try a case seeking to regain native customary rights (NCR) for indigenous lands in Sarawak.
The application by two groups of Sarawakian indigenous people over the lands they are living in was dismissed by a Federal Court’s three-man panel led by Chief Justice Tun Zaki Azmi.
He was accompanied by Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Tan Sri Richard Malanjum and Federal Court judge Datuk Seri Md Raus Sharif.
The groups are challenging the directive issued by the Sarawak Minister for Resource Planning to extinguish the NCR on lands occupied by them and their ancestors for generations.
The judges dismissed the appeal saying it was not “proper to do so”.
“In my opinion, there seems to possibly be other grounds for challenging the unconstitutionality of section 5(3) and (4) of the Code but unfortunately... these were not raised or properly canvassed before us,” Zaki told the court.
On the question of whether Sarawak’s state laws on tribal land issues was unconstitutional, Malanjum and Zaki declined to answer citing insufficient material while Shariff said the extinguishment was constitutional.
The native groups had appealed against the decision of the Kuching High Court that summarily rejected their suit on the question of law. The High Court and the Court of Appeal ruled that the minister’s directive was valid.
Bato Bagi and Jalang Paran had previously taken the Sarawak government to court to reclaim their lost NCR lands, and failed at the High Court and Court of Appeal.
The former’s suit concerned the loss of land due to the Bakun Dam hydroelectric project that dated back to 1997.
Jalang’s suit was against the government’s sale of their ancestral land to a private company to build a pulpwood mill, also dating back some to the 1990s.
Sarawak State Legal Counsel, Datuk J.C. Fong is representing the Sarawak state government while the two groups of natives are represented by lawyers Sulaiman Abdullah and Baru Bian.
The two groups are from the Dayak communities of the Kayan, Kenyah and Ukit; and the Iban.
The first group — Bato Bagi, Bit Buneng, Siring Angah, Adem Anyie, Jating Ibau and Ngajang Midin — represents five longhouses along the Batang Balui river in Belaga District, Kapit, which were affected by the construction of the Bakun Hydro-Electric Dam Project.
This group has refused to move to the Asap Resettlement Scheme, and continues to stay upriver in Batang Balui.
The second group, Jalang ak Paran and Kampong anak Amih, are residents of Rumah Munggu, a longhouse in Tatau, Bintulu, Sarawak. Their land in Ulu Batang Tatau was acquired to build a pulpwood mill.
The Sarawak government had attempted to persuade the Federal Court to throw out the natives’ appeal earlier.
It was reported that some three longhouse residents numbering 1,500 people had accepted the compensation package.
But the remaining residents in the 24 longhouses — each longhouse is home to between 300 and 500 people — were adamant in staying put.