One Step Forward For Indigenous People in Land Tussle

Wearing black traditional outfits decked with colourful beads and brass belts, over 300 men, women and children gathered at the Kota Kinabalu Courts Complex on 24th November 2011 to listen to an argument appealing for the High Court to hear a land rights case.

A plea by the Tongod villagers "Dont take away our customary land"

The indigenous people, largely from the Kadazandusun group, arrived at a nearby city park at 7am, as a sign of solidarity for villagers in remote Tongod, a district in central Sabah.

Villager Darinsuk Pangiran Apan and four others are in a land tussle with private company Hap Seng Consolidated Berhad and four other parties – a matter that has dragged on all the way to Malaysia’s highest judiciary level – the Federal Court.

Cynthia Ong lending support to one of the villagers claiming native customary rights over land. Pictured here with Darinsuk Pangiran Apan.

Just before 9am, villagers marched silently to the High Court building, not bothered by curious looks from passers-by, minutes before the Federal Court sat to listen to their appeal.

Those who were unable to find a seat in the building watched a video of the proceedings – streamed live from a laptop to a large mobile screen.

Watching the deliberation from a live feed outside the court room.

Six hours later, the Federal Court allowed the appeal and remitted the case to the High Court. The nation’s highest court also ruled that the High Court should not have dismissed the villagers’ claim based on preliminary objection, and that the order of the High Court as affirmed by the Court of Appeal should be set aside.

The fight is not over.

Although the legal battle is still on, the Federal Court’s decision is viewed as a positive step in the need to continuously advocate the rights of indigenous people over land – a thorny issue in Sabah, and in many other places around the world.

More photos on our Facebook page.

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