SARAWAK’S indigenous people, namely the Dayak, Malays and Melanau, are giving the state government three months to respond to their demand that the Land Code be amended.
The demand, aimed at giving the force of law to the customary ownership of their land, is contained in a memo that community leaders will hand to Deputy Chief Minister Douglas Uggah Embas later today as thousands of natives protest at Kuching’s old courthouse.
Uggah also heads the “pemakai menoa” (territorial domain) and “pulau galau” (communal forest reserve) committee to study the Federal Court decision that sparked an uproar over the land issue in the state.
“We want the ‘pemakai menoa’ and ‘pulau galau’ to be included in the amendment to the Land Code,” said Nicholas Bawin, a land rights activist and one of the key organisers of the protest.
The Federal Court, in December last year, ruled that the native customary rights (NCR) of the Dayak to the “pemakai menoa” and “pulau galau” had no force of law, and that the NCR applied only to the “temuda” (farmland).
“We want a response, and for the government to give its commitment that the amendment will be made at the next sitting of the state assembly,” said Bawin.
“The customary practice of ‘pemakai menoa’ and ‘pulau galau’ has been used by the Dayak since time immemorial, but it is not included in the Land Code.
“We want the amendment to make the practice very clear.”
Land rights lawyer Baru Bian said the protest today was the culmination of a long fight by the state’s natives over their customary rights to land.
“We have fought in courts of law, and we have fought twice in the state legislative assembly.”
Land, said the state PKR chief, was a serious matter, and the issue was not confined only to the Dayak, but involved all other native groups, such as Malays, the Melanau and Kedayan.
Baru, who is also Ba Kelalan assemblyman, tabled a private member’s bill last week to debate an amendment to the Land Code, but it was rejected on technical grounds.
In the ensuing vote, the 58 Barisan Nasional assemblymen voted against the bill, while all 10 opposition assemblymen voted for it.
Baru criticised BN, saying if it was as serious as it claimed to be, it should have adopted the bill and debated it later.
He said throwing it out on technical grounds was a flimsy excuse.
“Don’t blame it on technicality.”
Apart from the protest at Kuching’s old courthouse, a rally is also scheduled to be held at the new court complex in Petra Jaya.
Hundreds of protesters were brought in via buses from as far as Bintulu and Miri, with some showing up in their traditional costumes.