Press Release: Government should utilise SUHAKAM’s National Inquiry results as a blueprint for Orang Asli and Orang Asal land rights
The Malaysian Bar welcomes the launching, on 10 May 2011 by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (“SUHAKAM”), of a National Inquiry into the land rights of the Orang Asliand Orang Asal, Malaysia’s indigenous peoples.
For too long now, Federal and State Government policy on the land rights of the Orang Asli of Semenanjung Malaysia has been a patchwork of quick-fixes or short-term solutions that fail adequately to address the core issues. There appears to be no long-term strategic thinking underlying these solutions.
The situation in Sabah and Sarawak is neither better nor more assured. Notwithstanding specific legislation on native customary land rights, the Orang Asal of Sabah and Sarawak have faced numerous encroachments to, and loss of, their customary lands. These have been appropriated by the state authorities and handed over to logging and oil palm companies, while the Orang Asalhave had to face the ignominy of being arrested for allegedly trespassing onto what was once their ancestral homes.
SUHAKAM received 1,098 complaints relating to native customary land in Semenanjung, Sabah and Sarawak between 2002 and 2011. 229 of these came from Sarawak, while a whopping 824 arose in Sabah. In addition, numerous court cases lie pending against these state governments by the Orang Asal.
Even though Malaysia voted in favour of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (“UNDRIP”), which was adopted by the General Assembly on 13 December 2007, the key concept of free, prior and informed consent appears to be honoured more in its breach than in its observance. The government’s approach to development of Orang Asli andOrang Asal has been paternalistic, not participative. The recent name change of the relevant federal agency from Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli to Jabatan Pembangunan Orang Asli does not reflect the need to consult the Orang Asli community on the nature and extent of the development that they seek.
According to SUHAKAM, the results of the National Inquiry will be available in June 2012. The most recent proposal by the Federal Government to amend the Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954 has shortcomings and should be put on hold. The Federal and State Governments should also put on hold any proposed amendment to land legislation pending the outcome and recommendations of the National Inquiry. This is to enable proper consultation and feedback to be obtained from the relevant stakeholders in line with UNDRIP. The Malaysian Bar hopes that the government will utilise the eventual results and recommendations of SUHAKAM’s National Inquiry in formulating a blueprint for its proposed reforms of indigenous land rights legislation.
The Malaysian Bar has contributed to the ongoing dialogue on Orang Asli land rights through, for example, its Committee on Orang Asli Rights, Human Rights Committee, the Perak Bar, and through membership of the task force on Orang Asli rights established by the Selangor State Government. Members of the Malaysian Bar have offered their legal services on a pro bono basis to assist the Orang Asli communities to protect and defend their land rights. Similar efforts have been made by lawyers in Sabah and by members of the Sarawak Indigenous Lawyers Association.
The Malaysian Bar looks forward to participating in the work of SUHAKAM’s National Inquiry and to continue to speak for the land rights of Malaysia’s indigenous peoples.
12 May 2011