No legislation can abolish native customary rights, says laywer


KOTA KINABALU: A senior practising lawyer yesterday asserted that Native Customary Rights (NCR) in Sabah has existed since time immemorial through the practice of customs or Adat by the natives.

“Despite the latest issue and statements by the State Attorney General (Sabah) and reiterated by senior deputy director of Land and Survey Department Sabah, my view is that no legislation can abolish such rights as such rights are also provided under the Sabah Land Ordinance and Forest Enactment,” said Ram Singh.

“In any event, these are only statements or views taken by Land and Survey Department Sabah which obviously may be challenged in our Court of law,” he said at the Suhakam national inquiry into the land rights of indigenous people public hearing session at Dewan Sedco Wawasan Plaza yesterday.

Further, Ram pointed out that the NCR is recognised in Article 9 of the Royal Charter 1881 granted by the British Government to British North Borneo.

“In the administration of justice by the Company to the people of Borneo, or to any of the inhabitants thereof, careful regard shall always be had to the customs and laws of the class or tribe or nation to which the parties respectively belong, especially with respect to the holding, possession, transfer and disposition of lands and goods, and testate or intestate succession thereto, and marriage, divorce and legitimacy, and other rights of property and personal rights,” he explained.

Ram also contended that the alleged practice of burning houses and poisoning rubber trees belonging to the indigenous people can be challenged in court.

Referring to a statement made by Sabah Forestry Department officer Roslan Junaidi at an earlier hearing on June 4, Ram reckoned that the said officer should explain more on what they had done on the ground.

Roslan, when answering a question made by inquiry panel Tan Sri Simon Sipaun on June 4, whether the practice of burning of kampung houses and poisoning of rubber trees belonging to the indigenous people in villages under gazetted forest reserve were still implemented, had said that such practice had been stopped.

However the Sabah Forestry Department is not allowing any expansion in their plantation activities until the villages have been declassified from the forest reserve. Roslan had admitted that the department had overlooked a few cases but the department would issue notice to the villagers before taking any action.

Yesterday, Ram also said pollution and damage on native lands due to logging activities could also be challenged in court.