Lawyers group: What New Malaysia if Orang Asli land rights trampled?

Raynore Mering
Lawyers for Liberty’s executive director Latheefa Koya said ‘Promise 38’ in PH’s manifesto was to advance the interests of the community. — Picture by Azinuddin Ghazali

PETALING JAYA, Aug 29 — The Pakatan Harapan (PH) government must end the marginalisation of the Orang Asli community in line with its election promise for a “New Malaysia”, said Lawyers for Liberty.

Reacting to the dismantling of the Orang Asli blockades in Gua Musang on Monday, the group’s executive director Latheefa Koya said “Promise 38” in PH’s manifesto was to advance the interests of the community.

She said this included implementing proposals from the National Inquiry Report on Indigenous Land Rights published by the Human Rights Commission in 2013, such as recognising indigenous customary rights to land, remedying land loss and addressing land development issues and imbalances.

“If the government fails to protect the Orang Asli in Gua Musang, then the ‘New Malaysia’ would not be much different from the ‘Old Malaysia’ under Barisan Nasional where short term gains and profits take precedence over good governance, environment and human rights protection for the most vulnerable communities in the country,” she said in a statement today.

The dismantling of three blockades set up by the Orang Asli was reportedly carried out by over 300 members from federal and Kelantan enforcement agencies, including the police, Federal Reserve Unit and Forestry Department.

Latheefa said the confrontation between the Orang Asli in Gua Musang and the Kelantan government has been ongoing since 2016 over encroachment by loggers and durian plantation farmers on land claimed by the Orang Asli as their native customary land.

“The rights of the Orang Asli in Gua Musang have been systematically denied by the Kelantan government that preferred to grant access to so-called ‘permanent forest reserves’ to loggers and durian plantation farmers rather than protecting these forests inhabited and claimed by the Orang Asli, thus leading to rapid deforestation and massive destruction to the environment and their way of life,” she said.

She pointed out that on August 2, Deputy Rural Development Minister R. Sivarasa met with the community in Gua Musang and made a commitment to resolve the dispute, asserting that it was their right to protect their land.

Eight days later, she said the community met Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who also promised to discuss the issue with the Kelantan government.

“However, less than a month on, federal enforcement agencies are once again colluding with the Kelantan government to support logging and durian plantation farmers over the rights of the Orang Asli.

“We wish to remind the federal government of the special position of the Orang Asli in the Federal Constitution and that their claim over customary land rights have been recognised by the highest court in the country.”

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