The 14% Project: Indigenous Land Rights
by Amnesty International Malaysia
ADVOCATE I AWARENESS I AMPLIFICATION
What is this conference about?
The 14% Project is a collective effort organized by the youth in Amnesty International Malaysia namely the Amnesty Club of Sunway University (AMSU) and Brickfields Asia College (BAC). This project consists of various events including webinars, competitions and panel discussions that were conducted throughout the day of 18th April in which contributed to the primary purpose of the conference. This article will be focusing on the webinar with Mr. Brian Yap about Indigenous Land Expropriation & Rights including trivia and networking sessions.
The 14% in the title is not by chance, according to the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), it is estimated that Indigenous Peoples of Malaysia account for up to 13.8% of the national population. Therefore, it exhibits the effort of materialising this project and its dedication to raising awareness and supporting the Indigenous population in Malaysia.
Who are they and what do they do?
Amnesty Malaysia Sunway University (AMSU) and Amnesty BAC represent Amnesty International Malaysia (AIM) as an important role in Malaysia to shed light on human rights infringements either internationally or within the country. They believe that human rights education is not limited to adults but the youths too as they form the future of Malaysia’s standards on human rights.
This is where the establishments of Amnesty International Malaysia (AIM) local groups and school clubs come into the picture as they form a connection between the local community and AIM. These communities focus on carrying out activities to uphold and advocate pertinent human rights issues such as their #Unsilenced, #migranjugamanusia campaign, etc.
WEBINAR: INDIGENOUS LAND EXPROPRIATION & RIGHTS
By Mr Brian Yap, research consultant of AIM
Land rights of Indigenous People in Malaysia is a complicated subject and of broad interest, as it involves many parties and the sustainability of the environment. For the first session, Mr. Brian Yap has shared his knowledge and expertise throughout the 2 hours webinar and a Q&A session.
Mr. Brian Yap is a research consultant based with Amnesty International Malaysia (AIM) and assisted in the writing of a report named, ‘The Forest is Our Heartbeat’ in which discussed the challenges faced by the Indigenous People such as human rights, land ownership, abusive treatment towards them, etc followed by how they should be addressed based on various roles in the society.
Mr. Brian also manages issues concerning the general public including the death penalty, freedom of expression, abusive police, mistreatment towards the refugees and migrants resided in Malaysia. His role as a researcher is to gather information, piece it together and disclose it to the world through all forms of channels like press statements, full-length reports, etc. The data is also used to present in their campaigns as a form of evidence to support AIM’s movements.
He was also a former assistant of an executive counselor in the state government of Selangor which focused on the affairs of Indigenous People. He mentioned that the main power of state government is concerning land matters, supplied the communities with devices to do mapping, draw boundaries of ancestral land and used that as a basis for gazetting it as an ‘orang asli’ land. Difficult to obtain recognition due to strong resistance from the government and developers as land is valuable. Land is a form of power, resources and money.
Only 15.1% of their land is gazetted and protected under the Aboriginal People Act 1994. 22.5% approved for gazetting, 62.5% is applied for gazetting but not approved yet.
What he hopes to achieve during this session?
The objective of this session was to have a basic understanding of the rights that are supposed to be guaranteed for Indigenous People in Malaysia and why that is not the case.
Based on the report of ‘‘The Forest is Our Heartbeat’
Mr Brian Yap stated that this sharing session was based on a report that was published in 2018, written by his colleague, Ms. Rachel. The report was a result of research that was undertaken on visits to Malaysia from July to August 2018 and some desk research after that. In addition, the report includes interviews of 86 Indigenous People, village heads, global activists, members of civil society organizations, lawyers, academics and journalists. It documented the extent of risks faced by the Indigenous People in Malaysia when they tried to claim their rights to land and those who supported them also faced similar risks. Unfortunately, not much has changed as many problems still exist until this day.
Who are these Indigenous People? Indigenous People can be identified according to certain characteristics……
Definitions of the Indigenous People
- Self-identify as Indigenous People
- Historical link with those who inhabited a country or region at the time when people of different cultures or ethnic origins arrived
- Strong link to territories and surrounding natural resources
- Distinct social, economic or political systems
- Distinct language, culture and beliefs
- Marginalised and discriminated against by the state, are often neglected
- Maintain and develop their ancestral environments and systems as distinct peoples
Demographics & History of the Indigenous People
- Indigenous People / Orang Asal
- Orang Asli (0.6% of the population in Peninsular), being the main focus of this session
- have been here for more than 60,00 years until the 15th century as civilization started expanding into the jungle
- were taken as slaves until the British government abolished slavery.
- helped the communist insurgency in fighting against the British.
- Natives from Sabah (60% of the population in Sabah)
- Natives from Sarawak (70% of the population in Sarawak)
- Over 100 different ethnic and sub-ethnic groups, each with different characteristics, languages, religions and beliefs, etc.
Common misconception about Indigenous People
- They are anti-modernization and they refuse any form of development.
- This happened because,
- They lack acknowledgment from the government and the public.
- Therefore, they struggle to maintain their right to ancestral land even with various laws and regulations.
- In the name of development, many of them unwillingly relocated from their homes to build dams, highways, universities, logging activities.
- Youths are unaware of this situation as the education system does not recognize their contribution to the founders of Malaysia and towards the protection of our people during the war.
Law & Institutions
- Federal Constitution
- Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954
Mr. Brian mentioned that the power is under the control of the minister of road development or head of the Department of Orang Asli Development (appointed by the government) who manages the affairs concerning Indigenous People’s welfare while the state government is in charge of the matters concerning lands. Indigenous People and their views are not taken into consideration as they do not possess any form of control or power. Thus, revealing how unsuccessful the aforementioned laws are in protecting them.
- Jabatan Kemajuan Orang Asli (JAKOA)
This is the first official attempt by the government to regulate and control the Indigenous People’s affairs. Rather than preserving the original state of the Indigenous People, the government wanted the Indigenous People to reform and live like everyone else. Despite its long history, JAKOA was inefficient as an organization to make a significant contribution.
- United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)
The agreement is not legally binding. Thus, it cannot challenge the government in the event that they break the promise. However, it does provide a framework for organizations around the world to push forward.
- Sagong Tasi Case in 1996
- A case of land disputes between indigenous people and developers.
- Many issues such as encroachment, marginalisation and subsequent resettlement are shown in this case which caused an uproar among the communities.
- Temuan families were forcibly removed from their home in Kampong Bukit Tampoi in 1995 to make way for Nila-KLIA Highway for the Commonwealth Games in 1998.
- It would take 14 years before a settlement of 6.5 million was agreed upon by the court.
WITH ALL THESE LAWS, WHY DO RIGHTS VIOLATIONS STILL OCCUR?
- Rights Violations
Indigenous People are seen as a threat to national development or anti-government for protecting their lands. They are portrayed as backward, terrible people, and have received threats or warnings. Village heads tend to side with the government and cause internal conflicts which cause division amongst communities over development issues.
- A report by Suhakam’s National Inquiry on 2013
- Suhakam’s National Inquiry on Indigenous Land Rights identified the Land and Survey Department as responsible for the delay in registration of Indigenous land.
- “There is no national game plan, different states will treat you differently.”
- Barriers to Justice
- Legal obstacles to claiming ancestral lands
- Non-existent or insufficient investigations
- Lack of free, prior and informed consent
- Risks and fear of reprisals
Barriers to justice include the lack of legal protection of their rights and the lack of projection on the defender on their behalf. More law enforcers should be in place to investigate the violation against Indigenous People and their defenders. Unfortunately, in most cases, the police usually favor the government and their best self-interest and will not conduct serious investigations. He talked to a few defenders and emphasized that people should “fight things before it starts!” because it is significantly more difficult to oppose a development once it starts. Sometimes, Indigenous People are abused by protecting or defending their lands.
The situation remains dire all over Malaysia such as Gua Musang, Kelantan, Perak, Kuala Langat, Selangor. A major ongoing issue is the Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve (KLNFR), Selangor. The Indigenous People were not aware of the development that will be conducted on their home until they saw an advertisement in the newspaper. The government did not establish any form of communication prior to this development to inform them on the nature and the extent of the social and environmental impact of degazetting.
AIM’s effort in solving this issue
- Has setup urgent action to get people to email the YB of Selangor to voice out our objections
- A letter of record as a proof or evidence
- Partners with various organizations to stop the gazettement of the KLNF.
Why is this important?
- Environmental reasons, Indigenous People have been doing their job in taking care of the environment
- Not only to the Indigenous People’s rights
What Can You Do?
Mr. Brian urged the audiences to be a part of this by signing the petition so that the government will realise the importance of this issue and resolve it as soon as possible. He believed that the Indigenous People and their communities are misinterpreted by the mass and he hoped that he could change their views and provide them with much-needed assistance.
Q&A session with Mr. Brian Yap
Q1: How does the government engage with the Indigenous People in managing their policies?
A: Mr. Yap believes that engagement is limited between the village headmen and people within the structure appointed by JAKOA which resulted in the community’s interests and aspirations not being reflected as the leader does not often represent the best interest of the community. Clearly, JAKOA’s role is still lacking.
Q2: Are there any statutes that clearly state only state authority has the final say in Indigenous lands?
A: Mr. Yap does not know the exact statutes but the power of state government is limited to lands and religious affairs. Despite signing the UNDRIP agreement, Orang Asli still has to deal with the state government in matters regarding the Indigenous lands. In addition, the state government is dependent on the revenue that comes from developing lands, exploring natural resources such as logging. Thus, the conflict of interest arises.
Q3: Is UNDRIP incorporated into the domestic laws or the federal constitution of Malaysia?
A: No, it is not. It’s not legally binding as mentioned which is one of the calls of AIM and they have been pushing the government to do so, which is to incorporate the principles of UNDRIP into the federal law. Whether in the constitution or amending the Aboriginal Peoples Act, to instill the free, prior and informed consent to the Indigenous People is to put in place the laws of human rights and respect the community as being able to determine for itself what they want to do, respecting their lands that they have lived on for hundred of years as the fate of Orang Asli is in their hands. We hope that the government will do so.
Thank you for reading this article! Sunway Echo Media wishes everyone to make an effort in helping AIM by taking a look at their official website and supporting them in their journey of justice for human rights.
Written by: Alex
Edited by: Maki