Extracted from The Sarawak Tribune

Dated 19 February 2002

Suhakam to act as intermediary on land issues

By Sharon Ling and Nathan Achuk

KUCHING - The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) hopes to play an intermediary role in resolving issues related to native customary rights (NCR) land in Sarawak, its chairman Tan Sri Dato' Musa Hitam said here yesterday.

The commission will publish its report on the matter by the end of March following a fruitful discussion with the Chief Minister yesterday morning, he said.

Speaking at the opening of Suhakam's Sarawak branch office at Jalan Satok here, he disclosed that the commission had received memoranda on NCR land issues last year.

As such, a special task force comprising three commissioners and an officer was set up to investigate the problems raised.

"We don't want to prepare our report based on hearsay only. So our taskforce visited the relevant sited in Sarawak to meet with the communities concerned and with those who directly or indirectly have something to do with this issue. They also met with State government officials for an exchange of views.

"However, we also felt that we needed to get the Chief Minister's views on the matter, and I'm happy that he gave us full cooperation and support. We had a frank and open discussion with him," Musa said.

He added that Suhakam, as a neutral and independent institution, would act as an intermediary between the different parties involved in NCR land issues.

Meanwhile, Suhakam commissioner Dr Mohd Hirman Ritom Abdullah, who heads the Sarawak branch, said the final report would include feedback from people on the ground as well as government agencies.

"At this stage, we have to digest our discussions with the Chief Minister and get back to our taskforce to discuss what specific recommendations should be made. But broadly, it is our hope that the State government, in the process of development, will take cognizance of the issues raised by the various communities with regards to land rights," he said.

He indicated that other human rights issues raised in the State were directly or indirectly related to land rights.

These included logging in Penan areas, the Bakun resettlement scheme at Sungai Asap, the refusal of some residents to relocate, and the Ibans' land rights with regard to development of oil palm plantations.

"These are issues that the State government is very familiar with, so our role as Suhakam will be in a neutral framework that will meet the needs of all parties," Ritom said.