CJ Urged To Set Up Orang Asli Court

As many applaud the proposal to set up an Environmental Court, Chief Justice Arifin Zakaria has also been asked to look into the establishment of a special court to hear cases involving the rights of the indigenous community.

Bar Council’s Orang Asli rights committee head Andrew Khoo said such a court would work in tandem with the Environment Courts to safeguard indigenous communities from environmental degradation caused by private companies.

He cites how the Federal Court panel led by former Chief Justice Zaki Azmi had refused to adjudicate on a case involving native customary rights land, better known as the Bato Bagi case, preferring instead to abdicate making a judicial decision.

"I hope the new chief justice will use the Johannesburg principles which he mentioned to protect Orang Asli/Asal customary land from environmental degradation and ecological desecration by mining and plantation companies," he said.

Khoo, who is also head of the Bar Council's human rights committee, was speaking at the sidelines of the 2012 Legal Year and Conference of Judges in Putrajaya yesterday.

During the event, Justice Arifin had announced that the Environment Court was in the works in a bid to improve the delivery of justice for environmental matters.

In the Bato Bagi case, the judges refused to rule the constitutionality of the land seizure by the Sarawak government on a land, which was flooded after the construction of the Bakun Dam.

Firms get away with environmental crimes

In many cases, Khoo pointed out the conduct of these companies are tantamount to environmental crimes, but they get away with it because they work hand in glove with the state government.

"The new CJ's approach, if properly followed through, would help uphold the constitutional right to land of Orang Asli or Orang Asal, redress the justice deficit suffered by them, and preserve and protect our nation's environmental and ecological heritage for future generations to enjoy."

He said sometimes, cases involving the rights of indigenous communities took a long time to be resolved including the Bato Bagi case which originated in late 1997.

Khoo said there is a need to hear the cases involving the indigenous communities quickly as most of them are old and setting up a special court to hear it would help expedite the hearing and resolution of the cases.

Conflicts between indigenous communities and the state has been increasing in recent years as more patches of pristine jungle are being cleared for plantations.

Cases in which indigenous communities win court battles against the state are rare, but in the Sagong Tasi case, he and his Temuan tribe people won RM6.5 million in compensation after the Selangor government withdraw their appeal in a suit which originated from the previous BN administration.

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