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Prime Minister of Malaysia
Pejabat Perdana Menteri
Pusat Pentadbiran Kerajaan Persekutuan
Bangunan Perdana Putri
62502 Putrajaya, Malaysia
Tel: +603 8888 8000 / 8032
Fax: +603 8888 3444
Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman
Human Rights Commission of Malaysia
Level 29, Menara Tun Razak
Jalan Raja Laut
50350 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel: +603 2612 5600
Fax: +603 26125620
Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud
Chief Minister of Sarawak
Pejabat Ketua Menteri, Tingkat 22,
Wisma Bapa Malaysia,
93502 Kuching, Sarawak
Tel: +082 - 440801
Fax: +082 - 444566
We are gravely concerned and perturbed by the violation of the rights of indigenous groups commonly known as the Dayaks, which has been taking place for almost the past three decades in Sarawak , the largest state in Malaysia.
This is taking the form of a massive land grab through a legal and systematic means of forcing them to give up their ancestral lands or lands over which they have native customary rights (NCR). These lands are supposed to be recognized by the country’s highest courts and the Sarawak Land Code. However, these lands are given away to companies closely connected with State Government leaders, the political elites and cronies.
In April 2008, an International Fact Finding Mission (IFFM) team consisting of members from Centre for Community Economics and Development Consultants Society (CECOEDECON, India) Sustainable Development Foundation (SDF, Thailand) Rainforest Action Network (RAN, United States) visited over 19 communities in Sarawak, consisting of 70 villages and long houses and met with about 825 people from the north to central and south of Sarawak and found that there was continued and systemic organized aggression on indigenous peoples land and rights.
The IFFM established through interviews with the people, through documented evidences provided by the people and through evidences found in the form of graves, fruit trees and cultivated land, that the land areas claimed by the people are native customary rights to land (NCR). Therefore, they have a pre-established right to the land.
The team is of the opinion that since the lands are native customary lands through continuous customary practices of cultivation for generations, the land cannot be taken away from the indigenous peoples by the state government nor be leased out to private companies for plantations. This strategy and action constitutes gross violation of indigenous peoples’ rights to NCR land. They also violate the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
By losing their NCR lands, the indigenous communities lose their farms and the forests where they collect timber for housing and where they go out for hunting and for fishing. Moreover, they continue to suffer on account of the insatiable greed of the politicians in power who clearly show scant regard for human rights as food crops and homes are often bulldozed and the natives left landless and homeless.
Even the law-enforcement agencies, particularly the police, are siding with the plantation companies and are refusing to act when the affected indigenous farmers lodge official complaints against encroachment of their NCR land and the destruction to their crops and properties.
These violations of the rights of indigenous people continue unabated in the face of a deliberate collusion between State Government leaders and large commercial interests and is leading to an extremely dangerous situation. The authorities even deploy the police and the military to make arrests when the natives put up a struggle to defend their ancestral farming lands.
We are therefore extremely concerned at the land grab that is going on in Sarawak as this would lead to serious consequences and implications for the life, livelihood and food sovereignty of the indigenous groups of Sarawak, particularly the Dayak communities.
We strongly support the indigenous people’s struggle to protect their land for their survival.
We demand that the:
State Government of Sarawak should uphold the Native Customary Rights (NCR) as guaranteed under the Sarawak Land Code (1958) and recognize the NCR status of all affected parties who can prove the existence of their claim to these rights.
State Government of Sarawak should immediately cease the operation of the oil palm plantations in question.
State Government of Sarawak should provide protection for the safety of indigenous people against all forms of harassment, intimidation and threats of physical harm that arise from land disputes.
Free, fair, prior and informed consent should be obtained from the affected communities before NCR land is requested for commercial development via partnerships with government agencies and/or private sector initiatives.
Federal Government of Malaysia shall undertake to revise inconsistent laws in order to abide by Article 5 of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia which enshrines the guarantee of right to life for every inhabitant of its land.
State Government of Sarawak shall respect and abide by the case precedent established by the Federal Court of Malaysia’s decision of Madeli Salleh vs Government of Sarawak, which states very clearly that the customary rights of inhabitants were recognized and accepted by the British Crown when it governed Sarawak. It became part of common law and therefore shall be recognized as being a fundamental right.
State Government of Sarawak shall cease the issuance of “provisional leases” (PL) for NCR disputed land with immediate effect.
Federal Government of Malaysia shall recognize the relevance of all international convenants and instruments on human rights and make haste to ratify and to conform to all these said Charters.
If the State Government of Sarawak fails to comply with the above demands, then the Federal Government of Malaysia must come forward to take appropriate steps to protect NCR lands, the lives and livelihoods of the indigenous people.
Through this letter, I appeal to you to listen to the above demands and look into the struggle of the indigenous peoples in Sarawak.