Sunday, January 3, 2010

Landmark ruling strengthens native rights in Sabah

NATIVE customary rights took centre stage in Sabah recently. The High Court ruled that natives had rights over land alienated for other purposes, provided they had occupied it before.This has since been described as a landmark ruling that may trigger claims by natives whose land has been turned into parks, reserves and sanctuaries or had been taken for development projects.

Judge Datuk Linton Albert made the ruling in Kota Kinabalu on Dec 15 after jointly hearing two cases relating to Pulau Sipadan in Semporna. The plaintiffs were Ab Rauf Mahajud and Abdillah Abdul Hamid, both descendants of native Bajau turtle egg collectors on the island, which is a world class dive site and a bird sanctuary. Rauf sued the state government and the Sabah Parks Board of Trustees, while Abdillah moved against the government and the Semporna Assistant Collector of Land Revenue.

Both filed claims for compensation after the government prohibited them from collecting turtle eggs in 1997. Abdillah also claimed for losses incurred after his family house, on an one hectare plot on the island, was demolished after its occupants were ordered to vacate the island.Albert ruled that both Rauf and Abdillah should be compensated for their losses in respect of their rights to collect turtle eggs.

For Abdillah, the judge ruled that he had established his native customary rights having provided evidence on the existence of his house and coconut orchard since the time of his ancestors and that he should be compensated for the plot of land.Kota Kinabalu district chief William Majimbun, who looks after native affairs in the state capital, said the decision helped strengthen the rights of natives in Sabah.New Straits Times Kuala Lumpur

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