‘Govt failed to protect Orang Asli rights’
The public must rise up and pressure the government into solving the woes of the downtrodden Orang Asli, says the Bar Council.
KUALA LUMPUR: The state and federal governments have failed to protect the interests of the Orang Asli in Malaysia, the Bar Council said today.
Bar Council treasurer Steven Thiru said the government had violated the Orang Asli community’s land rights in particular.
“You see exploitation and deprivation of land in both East and West Malaysia.
“Either the authorities – the state government – or private bodies have been grabbing, unlawfully acquiring ancestral land,” said Thiru, who is also co-chairman of the Bar Council committee on Orang Asli rights.
Last month, some 500 Orang Asli had staged a picket outside the office of the Pahang Menteri Besar after having lost their native land to the East Coast Economic Region (ECER) project.
However, two of the protesters were arrested the following day over charges of disturbing ECER’s contract workers.
In September, 30 Orang Asli had also picketed outside the Orang Asli Development Department (JAKOA) headquarters to protest against the authority for continuing land alienation despite an earlier promise to stop.
“Aside from picketing, some of the Orang Asli go to court to solve their issues, but they get little compensation and at times even the court’s rulings are ignored,” Thiru told reporters today.
He was referring to the 15-year legal battle among the ageing families of the Temuan tribe, which saw two members pass away before the court ruled in their favour in May this year.
The families obtained RM 6.5 million in compensation for their native customary land, which was seized to build a highway to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).
But Thirun said such successes are few and far in between, and more could be done to help the dwindling Orang Asli community.
“I am absolutely disappointed with the government’s performance so far,” he said.
“So much more can be done, and ultimately it is up to the government to protect the Orang Ali’s way of life, and to make sure that their lands and rights are respected,” he added.
Tension is increasing
National Human Rights Society (Hakam) president Abdul Rashid Ismail said that tension was increasing among the Orang Asli community due to the amount of land being taken away from them.
“Land is becoming more scarce, and we see urban areas edging ever nearer to Orang Asli settlements. For example, Damansara Perdana used to have an Orang Asli settlement there, but now it’s like a concrete jungle.
“Most of the Orang Asli who originally lived there were either relocated, or were forced to abandon the lifestyle they have known for centuries and purchase houses,” he said.
Rashid said that aside from land rights, the indigenous community was also deprived of the basic right to education.
“According to a Suhakam report in 2010, there were 17,9842 Orang Asli children who were not attending school. This is a significant number considering the population of the indigenous community,” he said.
“The education minister can easily help to achieve 100% school enrolment among the children of the Orang Asli. But that is not happening.
“Education is essential in helping to lift the indigenous community out of the poverty threat. Almost all live below the poverty line,” he added.
Public must pressure government
Meanwhile, Thiru urged the public to play an active role in pressuring the government to fulfil its responsibility towards the Orang Asli.
“Don’t let the Orang Asli become a footnote in our history – just a tiny mention at the bottom of our history books that they went the way of the dinosaurs,” he said.
He said the public could learn more on the issue by attending a seminar jointly organised by the Bar Council and Hakam titled “The Struggles of the Orang Asli and Other Minorities in Malaysia”.
The two-day seminar, which begins at 8.30am on Dec 7, will be held at the Grand Seasons Hotel here. Tickets are priced at RM50 for the public, RM30 for members of the Bar Council and RM15 for students.
He said Orang Asli representatives would be present to share their personal experiences, as well as officers from Suhakam.