13 September 2008
Indigenous Peoples Prevented from Meeting Agung
Kuala Lumpur – Exactly one year after the United Nations General Assembly, which includes Malaysia, approved the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP), the Orang Asal (Indigenous Peoples) of the nation were prevented from going to the palace to present a memorandum to DYMM Seri Paduka Baginda Yang DiPertuan Agung. At 10:30am, over a hundred indigenous peoples were met at the start of their march by the Polis Diraja Malaysia (Royal Malaysian Police) who prevented them from walking and threatened the leaders with arrest. Denied their rights, the representatives of JOAS instead read out the memorandum to members of the media at a hastily convened press conference.
Mark Bujang, Executive Director of Borneo Resources Institute (BRIMAS), stated that the police had been aware of the group’s intention to present DYMM Seri Paduka Baginda Yang DiPertuan Agung with a memorandum and that the Royal Palace had consented to receive the memorandum. Despite the willingness of our King to accept the memorandum, the Royal Malaysian Police decided to prevent the act from taking place.
The memorandum in question calls for the Government of Malaysia to honor its agreement to uphold the rights of the DRIP. These rights include the right to self-determination, the recognition of the separate identity and culture of the indigenous peoples and the recognition of customary land.
“With this memorandum, we are asking the Malaysian government for the rights due to us, the indigenous peoples. We are asking for recognition of our identity as indigenous peoples and to implement, at a local and national level, the rights embodied in the DRIP,” said Adrian Lasimbang, Chair of JOAS. He added later, “We had intended to sign this document before its handover at the Palace, however since we are prevented from delivering the document, we cannot carry out our intention.”
The Indigenous Peoples of Malaysia, which includes Orang Asli in Peninsular Malaysia, Anak Negeri of Sabah and Dayak/Orang Ulu of Sarawak have had long histories of struggle with state and federal governments to recognise their collective rights. Issues of land conflicts, resettlement, government interference in local leadership and the authorities’ reluctance to accept the separate and distinct cultural and spiritual traditions of the indigenous peoples have led to the marginalisation of indigenous peoples, making us the poorest and most vulnerable groups in Malaysia, despite the nation’s much touted economic policy of uplifting the ‘bumiputera’ (sons of the soil).
At the press conference, Tijah Yok Chopil, spoke eloquently of Orang Asli’s long struggle to get recognition of their rights and their right to be able to decide on issues affecting Orang Asli. “If there is to be a body that governs affairs of Indigenous Peoples,” she said, “it should be made up of Indigenous Peoples.” The federal Department of Orang Asli Affairs is not led by Orang Asli nor are Orang Asli involved in the decision-making of the Department’s programmes.
JOAS project coordinator Sean Rubis said, “The indigenous peoples continue to struggle to get their voices and issues heard and today’s incident is a reminder that these voices are continually being silenced. JOAS will continue to provide a platform for a united indigenous voice and we will continue to educate our peoples and the general public of our rights.”
The Indigenous Peoples Network of Malaysia (or Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia, JOAS) is the umbrella network for 21 organisations throughout Malaysia that represents different indigenous peoples’ organisations and communities. As the focal point for indigenous rights and advocacy in Malaysia, JOAS provides the indigenous communities with representation nationally, regionally and internationally.
The Orang Asal or indigenous peoples of Malaysia consist of more than 80 ethno-linguistic groups, each with its own culture, language and territory that number about 4 million, or about 15 per cent of the national population. Orang Asal of Malaysia remain among the poorest groups in the nation, a manifestation of our marginalisation and disenfranchment from the mainstream society on account of the non-recognition of our rights as contained in both national and international customary law.
For more information on this media release and for further assistance on stories related to indigenous peoples issues, please contact Jennifer Rubis at firstname.lastname@example.org