National Conference on Indigenous Land Rights

Miri – Malaysian indigenous communities gathered in Miri, Sarawak for a one day conference and workshop. The objective of the event is to start collaboration among indigenous communities in the three regions in overcoming the challenges they are facing relating to their native customary lands.

The event was organised by the Civil Society Organisations, SAVE Rives and Jaringan Orang Asal Semalaysia (JOAS). The participants & speakers at the conference comprise of villagers and activists from all over Malaysia, including some well-known land right lawyers among whom are the West Malaysian lawyer Dr. Yogeswaran Subramaniam, Sarawak’s lawyers Mr. M S Sandhu & Mr. Harrison Ngau.  Mr. Jerald Joseph a commissioner from the SUHAKAM (The human right commission of Malaysia) was also invited however he was refused entry to Sarawak by the state government.

The challenges common to the Indigenous communities from the three regions over their lands are encroachments either by logging, industrial farming, mining or mega dams. As a result, thousands of hectares of forest and agricultural land in Sabah, Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia are affected. In some cases the people are forcefully displaced. The indigenous communities, whose livelihood and traditions are closely related or dependent on their lands, rivers and forest, are thus severely affected.

In his keynote address, Dr Yogeswaren Subramaniam said, it cannot be denied that the issue of customary lands has been a longstanding struggle for the indigenous communities. This is because, in his point of view, “This stems from the non-recognition of customary land rights or customary land rights are recognise but the authorities are weak to implement relevant laws to protect these rights.”

There are hundreds of land court cases in Malaysia by the indigenous peoples over the over the encroachment into their lands by developers who are given licenced by the respective state authorities. In practically all the cases, the owners of the land were not consulted. In Sarawak alone, there are more than three hundred cases which are still pending in the court. Mr. Nasri Salbiah from the Sungai Rumanau community representative from Sabah said, “If conflict can be avoided before going to courts, everyone wins.”

Mr Yusri Ahon, President of JOAS and an Orang Asli representative from Pahang shared his experience on the land rights issues faced by the Orang Asli in Peninsular Malaysia. He mentioned that a lot of Orang Asli lands are allotted for logging, plantations and infrastructure development. Even to look for forest resources the Orang Asli communities would have to apply for permit from the government. “The government is not concerned about Orang Asli rights but are concerned about people who can give them benefits which exclude the Orang Asli”, said Yusri.The declaration named “Malaysian Indigenous Peoples’ Declaration on Customary Right Land” will be submitted to the various State Governments, the Federal Government and political parties in Malaysia.

End of Release