Sarawak natives wins legal battle to save ancestral land

The endangered Bidayuh Dayak community reached a settlement with the Sarawak state in Malaysia to acquire their traditional land rights. The land was being taken away from the natives for developing a wild life sanctuary in Upper Bengoh.

Over the last five years, the Bidayuh’s have been fighting a legal battle against the Sarawak government to stop the state from taking over 2,500 hectares of their native ancestral land, for the national park. The Bidayuhs’, a community of various indigenous group have been living in South Sarawak and North Kalimantan region of Borneo, the world’s third largest island and the richest rainforest region after the Amazon for centuries.

Simo Sekam, the headman of Kampung Rejoi who has been involved in this fight told the press, “I’m glad that this is over and happy that we fought through the difficult times.” The plaintiffs used one of the records dating back to 1858 where their claim was documented in a journal, implying the significance of journal records.

Sarawak map captured from a film, Sarawak Gone @Andrew Garton

In June 2014, the court ordered the customary rights of Bidayuh landowners be restored after the state government informed the court that the state would not proceed with its proposed extension of the national park. Based on that decision, on the 18th of December, the settlement was reached and the government informed that all villages numbering four and 31 claimant families and other 200 families, who did not initiate legal proceedings will get their traditional rights back.

The community due to the Bengoh dam project have been already relocated from their land under Bengoh Resettlement Scheme, and the Bidayuhs did not want to part with this land anymore for a wild life sanctuary. The dam with a capacity of 144 million cubic meters is supposed to reduce water scarcity for Kuching, the capital of Sarawak and enhance overall water availability for Malaysia.

If you are interested to know more about the struggle of the Bidayuhs, the loss of their forest and development of a dam, please click here for a short movie by producer Toy Satellite and Andrew Garton.

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