Malaysia: JOAS hosts National land conference

PETALING JAYA: The Jaringan Orang Asal Malaysia (JOAS) is hosting a National land conference, to find a resolution as recommended by human rights commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), on the land rights of Indigenous people, at Penampang, Sabah today.

JOAS president Thomas Jalong said more than 300 participants have registered their attendance, including students, government officials as well as JOAS members from their respective villages across Malaysia.

He said among the topics, themed around 18 recommendations from SUHAKAM’s report to be discussed, includes the establishment of an independent National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, recognition of indigenous customary rights to land, addressing land development imbalances, finding a remedy for loss of land, preventing future land loss and addressing land administration issues.

“Many don’t like to hear that the indigenous peoples are one of the most marginalized groups in Malaysia. But this is a fact. And of late, the amendments in law and actions by the government further violates our rights.” said Thomas Jalong.

“This conference is a good platform for villagers such as us to participate in the forming of policies that will drastically effect our lives,” said Arom Asir, 61, a Temiar Orang Asli elder who traveled all the way from remote Kelantan to attend the conference.

Leading up to this conference were heated protests by indigenous groups at dam development sites – Murum and Baram in Sarawak – where there were reports of police brutality, misleading information given to the communities affected and who are now worse off than they were before.

Thomas said another protest that hits close to home just last week is the blockade by communities in Ulu Papar, who succeeded in stopping a team of consultants from entering the area without their Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC).

They have been protesting the construction of the Kaiduan dam since learning about it in 2010. The proposed dam would displace nine villages and inundate 12 square kilometers of rainforest, destroying parts of the Salt Trail within the protected area of Sabah Park.

“With up to 10 countries making recommendations to the Malaysian government to improve its treatment of indigenous peoples at the recent Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva, the conference is timely in seeing the government uphold it’s commitment to international human rights standards.” he elaborated.