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Malaysia court agrees to hear indigenous land rights suit

The Malaysian Federal Court [official website] refused to dismiss a lawsuit [case materials, in Malaysian] Tuesday brought on behalf of indigenous peoples of Borneo who claim the Sarawat state government unconstitutionally took their land and sold it to businesses. The suit claims that the acquisitions [Malaysian Insider report], effected pursuant to the Sarawat land code, violate Article 5 of the Malaysian Constitution [text, PDF], which provides in part that "[n]o person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty save in accordance with law," and Article 13, which requires adequate compensation for the taking of land. Lawyers for the indigenous people claim that the people view the land as the source of their life rather than a mere location and as such the government must provide more just monetary compensation. The government began acquiring the land in 1997 [AFP report] to build a dam and a pulp mill. The indigenous people were relocated. Two cases addressing the issue will be heard simultaneously beginning April 28.

In December, the US government pledged to support a non-binding UN treaty [JURIST report] expressing support for the rights of indigenous peoples. The US was the last member to lend its support to the treaty. In November, Canada endorsed [JURIST report] the declaration citing [statement] encouragement from community leaders and other countries' experiences in reversing its position on the document. The Canadian government described the move as one intended to strengthen relationships with indigenous communities. In April, New Zealand endorsed [AFP report] the declaration, as did Australia [JURIST report] in 2009.

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