High Court rules Ibans have acquired native customary rights (NCR) over land in their area

24 August 2014

Malaysia: The High Court on 11 August declared that Iban landowners in Kpg Spaoh, Kpg Menat Ulu and Kpg Menat Illi in Gedong, Simunjan have acquired native customary rights (NCR) over land in their area which had been alienated by the government to several companies through provisional leases and issuance of forest licence.

In delivering the decision Judge Lee Heng Chiong granted a declaratory order that these landowners, who were the plaintiffs in the suit have acquired NCR over the land they claimed.
The High Court also declared that the issuance of the forest licence and provisional land leases on the said NCR land are null and void.

The landowners filed their statement of claim in 2007. The defendants were Superintendent of Land and Surveys, Samarahan Division, Director of Forest, Sarawak and the state government. Subsequently the companies applied for themselves to be struck out from the suit and their applications were allowed.

The High Court also ordered cost of RM50,000 to be paid by the defendants to the plaintiffs.

According to their statement of claim, the landowners said the NCR land had been established by their pioneering ancestors since time immemorial even before the White Rajah came to Sarawak.

They and/or their ancestors had been occupying the said NCR lands traditionally gathering of jungle produce like rottan, woods, herbs, shoots, mushroom and edible plants.

Further, they claimed that their rights and occupation of the said NCR land had been recognised by defendants as they and/or their parents had been given rubber subsidy under the Department of Agriculture to plant rubber trees from 1966 to 1970. Large areas of the said NCR land are rubber gardens.

The landowners have been depending on their forest area as primary resources therein like their ‘Pulau Galau’ (preserved forest islets) as their source of housing materials, medicinal herbs, natural vegetables and household subsistent daily cash income.

Further, they depend on the rivers that run through the land for their primary source of fishes as protein food and also as source of subsistent daily cash income.

The landowners also claimed that the said NCR land or pemakai menoa consisted of farm land or temuda, old longhouse site or tembawai, burial ground, cultivated fruit orchards or gardens which are proofs of their occupation of the said NCR land since time immemorial.

In their claim, the landowners sought for among others, a declaration that they have acquired the NCR over the said NCR land and an order to the state government for recognition of such NCR and/or to enter and/or record in their registry such rights and thereafter to issue title to the said land in accordance with the provision of the state Land Code.

Representing the landowners were counsels See Chee How and Desmond Kho while the state government was represented by state legal counsels Nur Azhar Bujang and Rima Ellani Farizuani Kalana.