Court recognises indigenous land ownership

The Temuan people of Bukit Tampoi village in peninsular Malaysia have won a ten-year battle for their land.

The Temuans had their land taken from them in 1995 for the construction of a road link to a new airport. They enlisted lawyers to fight their case, and the Malaysian Court of Appeal finally affirmed in September the Temuans' rights to ownership of their land. It also ordered a developer, the Malaysian government and a government agency to pay the tribe substantial compensation.

The authorities had claimed that the Temuans and other ‘Orang Asli' or ‘first peoples' were merely tenants on state land and therefore not entitled to any compensation.

Judge Gopal said in his ruling, ‘Here you have a case where the very authority – the state – that is enjoined by the law to protect the aborigines turned upon them and permitted them to be treated in a most shoddy, cruel and oppressive manner. It is my earnest hope that an episode such as this will never be repeated.'

Temuan man Tukas Anak Siam says, ‘The judgment allows us to preserve our heritage because land is very important to us as our lives depend on it. We cannot even die properly without it.'