Malaysia court rules against indigenous people in land rights suit

[JURIST] The three-judge Malaysian Federal Court [official website] on Thursday ruled unanimously against indigenous people [case materials, in Malay] fighting against the Sarawak government's seizure of land to build a dam. The court had agreed to hear the suit [JURIST report] in March. The ruling caps a more than decade-long legal battle [AP report] which began when the Sarawak government started seizing land in 1997. Almost USD $2.3 billion has been spent on the Bakun Dam project which has created a reservoir approximately 260 square miles large. Two of the judges refused to answer whether the seizure was unconstitutional and instead dismissed the appeal on the grounds that the issues "were not raised or properly canvassed before the court." The judges stated that if the plaintiffs were not satisfied with the amount of compensation then that is a matter for arbitration, not for the court. The third judge dismissed the appeal on the grounds that the seizure was constitutional. The Center for Orang Asli Concerns [advocacy website] expressed disappointment in the ruling [press release]. Counsel for the plaintiffs were disappointed that the constitutional issues were not resolved, but looked forward to resolving the issues in future suits. There are currently more than 100 unresolved land rights suits filed by indigenous people in Malaysia's lower courts.

In December, the US government pledged to support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples [JURIST report], a non-binding UN treaty expressing support for the rights of indigenous peoples. The US was the last member to lend its support to the treaty. In August 2010, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon [official website] called on governments to improve the living conditions of indigenous peoples [JURIST report] and support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

 

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