Dams and land grabbing; Indigenous groups meet to find a solution

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

PENAMPANG: The Jaringan Orang Asal seMalaysia (JOAS) two-day national land conference starts today, at the Dewan Tun Fuad.

The main objective is to submit a resolution based on the recommendations of the SUHAKAM National Inquiry on the Land Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Over 300 participants have registered to attend, including academics, students, government officials as well as JOAS members from their respective villages across Malaysia.

“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,” explained Thomas Jalong, JOAS President.

“We hope that this resolution will push forth the implementation of the recommendations in the SUHAKAM land inquiry, and thus allow for a more just system for the indigenous people,” he added.

Amongst the topics themed around the 18 recommendations from the SUHAKAM report to be discussed include 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 land, preventing future land loss and addressing land administration issues.

“This conference is a good platform for villagers such as us to participate in the 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 they reported police brutality and misleading information given to the communities affected by it, who are now worse off than they were before.

Another protest that hits close to home just last week is the blockade by communities in Ulu Papar, which 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 of it in 2010. The proposed dam would displace 9 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 on its treatment of indigenous peoples at the recent Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva, the conference comes timely to seeing the government uphold its commitment to international human rights standards.


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