SARAWAK, June 21 – Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) has recently received a complaint from the Iban community of Rumah Labang in Nanga Seridan, Tinjar, Sarawak regarding an oil palm plantation project that has encroached on their native customary rights (NCR) territory. SAM is calling on the Sarawak state government to take transparent and fair actions to halt further encroachment and protect the Rumah Labang NCR territory. The community had been informed about the proposed project since before 2018 and had expressed their objections through discussions with the project proponent and state authorities.
During the movement control order enforced due to the Covid-19 pandemic, no encroachment took place. However, the community recently discovered that the project proponent had entered the Rumah Labang customary territory in early February this year without consultation or knowledge of the community. The encroachment was reportedly for road and drainage construction, resulting in the destruction of the community’s property and crops, including rubber trees. The community had actively participated in dialogues with the project proponent, including meetings organized by the Beluru District Office and other state government agencies.
During a dialogue with the community and the Marudi state assembly person in 2018, it was agreed that the NCR territories of Rumah Labang and Long Sepiling would be excluded from the project area. Additionally, during the 18th DUN meeting in 2018, the state government assured that valid NCR areas within the project site would not be issued permanent title deeds. Despite these assurances, the encroachment on the Rumah Labang NCR territory has taken place, violating their recognized NCR rights protected by the Sarawak Land Code 1958 and the Federal Constitution.
The residents of Rumah Labang have been living in their NCR territory since 1954 and possess evidence such as community-owned farms, rubber smallholding certificates, birth certificates dating back to the 1950s, and old cemeteries. SAM is closely monitoring the situation and calls upon the Sarawak state government to ensure the activities of this plantation project no longer encroach upon the 275-hectare area in Lot 12 of the Bok Land District, which is part of the Rumah Labang NCR territory.
SAM specifically requests the Sarawak Department of Lands and Surveys and the Sarawak Land Custody and Development Authority (LCDA) to provide further explanations on the actions they will take to prevent future encroachment on the Rumah Labang NCR territory by this project. It is crucial to protect the NCR rights of indigenous communities and ensure transparency and fairness in land use planning and development to preserve the cultural heritage and livelihoods of local communities. SAM emphasizes the need for immediate action to address the encroachment issue and safeguard the rights of the Rumah Labang community.