SERIAN: Incursions into native customary rights land including illegal feeling of rubber trees and fruit trees on the land form the most complaints the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) received on human rights violations in Sarawak, said Sarawak Suhakam Commissioner Detta Samen.
“Today we are conducting public hearing on the complaints by the native landowners to stand up and tell us their side of the story. An equal opportunity will be given to the corporate bodies and the government to respond to the so-called allegations,” he said.
The public hearing was chaired by Suhakam chairman Hasmy Agam with Samen and James Nayagam as panel members.
The team will also visit other towns and cities including Sibu, Miri and Bintulu for such hearing.
Samen said that the public got to understand that the public hearing was the second stage and the first stage was the public consultation that was held towards the end of last year.
“After we have done the public consultation, we are now doing the public hearing whereby the complainants are given the opportunity or a forum for them to stand up and tell us their side of the story.
“An equal opportunity will be given to the corporate bodies and government to response to the allegations,” he said.
Samen said that since there were so many NCR land complaints, it is not possible for Suhakam to solve these problems on a case by case basis.
“It is better for us to look at the overall picture and find out where exactly is the problem. It could be the problem of the government. It could be the problem of the contractor or it could be the problem of the natives themselves.
“So let us look this problem. This is what we are attempting to do,” he said, pointing out that this is the first time that Suhakam is conducting a national inquiry on land rights.
He said: “After we heard the evidence and finished the hearing we will compile the reports and then we may be able to come up with some kind of recommendations or suggestions.
“These suggestions and recommendations will be given to the relevant ministries, to the state legislative assembly and parliament,” he said.
Asked why the government kept on issuing provisional leases to corporate bodies despite so many complaints, Samen said: “The government has the right to issue PL to the contractors because the state needs to harvest the resources, but in the process of issuing the PL, there must be provision that communal forests or NCR land must be taken out of the forests.
“If you want to intrude into NCR land, there must be element of compensation, and this can only be done if there is a proper negotiation, proper dialogue between native communities and contractors and also the government agency.
“They can even approach Suhakam which can be the negotiator or arbitrator for the parties concerned.
“I don’t say there will be no problems upon negotiations. What I am saying there will be less problems.
“Yes Suhakam can help in the negotiation process,” Samen told FMT.
In Monday’s hearing, the common grouses by the natives are that their NCR land have been given away without their knowledge, their rubber trees, cash crops and fruit trees were illegally felled without compensation being paid, and the natives are accused of being ‘outsiders’ and thus they are not allowed to enter their own land.
Breaches of agreement were also a common complaint when the companies refused to honour the agreements they made with the landowners.
Meanwhile, Sarawak PKR chief Baru Bian has described land-grabbing of NCR land as being ‘chronic’ spreading from Lawas in the north region to Lundu in the south.
More than 200 of NCR land cases have been filed by native landowners in the High Court and are awaiting hearing.