‘Stop land approvals until report on native rights is out’

KUALA LUMPUR: The orang asli community in Peninsular Malaysia wants the government to stop giving approvals to developers that encroach into their ancestral land until the report by the government’s task force into the matter is released.

This was among the demands of about 100 orang asli under the Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli di Semenanjung Malaysia (JKOASM), who had gathered for a five-day meeting in the city to discuss issues related to the community, particularly over land matters.

They also called for a stop to land encroachment and land grabbing activities.

“The government must put a stop to development plans that are against the wishes of the orang asli,” said JKOASM  coordinator Tijah Yok Chopil at the closing of the 5th Orang Asli Land Conference yesterday.

She said if the land is cleared before the report is released, it would make the task force’s work futile.

The participants unanimously passed a 17-point resolution to demand for their rights. The resolution will be submitted to the task force to help it compile a report that reflects the orang asli’s concerns.

The task force comprising orang asli representatives and government agencies that were set up following the release of the Malaysian Human Rights Commission’s (Suhakam) national inquiry report into the land rights of indigenous people in Malaysia in August.

There were 18 recommendations in the report, and the task force was set up to look into the implementation of these recommendations.

Shafie (right) discussing a point with the participants of the forum, while Tijah looks on.

The crux of the 17-point resolution is that the right to land is equal to life to the orang asli. They are, however, not demanding for personal land rights, but communal land rights according to their traditional way of life.

“In line with the land and territorial concept of the orang asli custom and the importance of land to the orang asli, we recommend that the orang asli land should be recognised in the form of a communal land title where the power will belong to the community to manage, use and conserve the land fully owned by the orang asli.

“This is because the current land governance policy is more prone to giving land rights to individuals,” the resolution read.

It said safeguarding the orang asli’s rights is important for the community’s development and welfare and as such, the Orang Asli Act 1954 should be amended, or a new law be drafted, to accommodate such land title awards.

The resolution also demanded that Section 3 of the Orang Asli Act be amended to give power to the orang asli to define the orang asli on their own terms, and not as determined by the Minister or Department of Orang Asli Development.

JKOASM, with representatives from Pahang, Perak, Negeri Sembilan, Melaka, Johor, Selangor and Kelantan, will use this resolution to lobby the government, said Shafie Dris, who is also a JKOASM coordinator.

JKOASM is a loose grassroots movement that links the orang asli villages in Peninsular Malaysia. It organises empowerment training sessions and forums for the orang asli to help them understand their rights.

The coalition was consulted before the tabling of Budget 2014 and its representatives were invited to participate in the International Human Rights Conference in Geneva.

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This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on November 26, 2013.

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