Activists: US report on Orang Asli land rights too shallow

siti-kassim-orang-asli-1

PETALING JAYA: Washington’s annual human rights report does not adequately address issues surrounding Orang Asli rights in the country, several Orang Asli activists have said.

Activist-cum-lawyer Siti Kasim pointed out that the US State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016 was too shallow as it merely interpreted the Orang Asli land rights issue in a “simplistic manner”.

“It’s partially correct if one were to solely focus on written law. But it’s an outdated view on Orang Asli land rights, based on a simplistic interpretation of the statute law,” she told FMT when contacted.

The report had criticised the government for not protecting Orang Asli rights, pointing out that the 180,000-strong population was among the poorest groups in the country.

According to the report’s definition of native customary land rights, the Orang Asli do not own the land they live on but are permitted by the government to live on designated land as “at-will tenants, typically without documentation”.

Siti said the report’s definition of native customary land rights was flawed as courts in the past 20 years have in fact recognised the rights of the Orang Asli to their land.

“The only problem lies with the failure of the executive and legislative action to recognise these justiciable rights, in line with these judicial pronouncements.”

Center for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC) coordinator Colin Nicholas also expressed similar sentiments, pointing out that courts in the past have supported the Orang Asli in their battle over native customary land rights.

“It’s not right to say the Orang Asli land rights are restricted to ‘at-will tenants’ because the courts have ruled the Orang Asli have rights to their customary lands under the constitution and the common law.

“The constitution does provide rights for the Orang Asli to their customary lands,” he told FMT when contacted.

Colin also agreed with Siti that the report was too outdated, pointing out that the population of the Orang Asli is more than 200,000 now, not 180,000 as stated in the report.

Colin fingered the government for being the hurdle to the Orang Asli community in securing its own native customary land.

“The federal and state governments, and the Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa), are not being proactive in protecting Orang Asli forest reserves in the last 50 years.

“It is due to the government’s negligence to gazette Orang Asli lands as reserves which has caused them to be victims of alienation and dispossession today.”

Since last year, the Orang Asli and the Kelantan Forestry Department have been in confrontation over logging activities taking place on Orang Asli settlements.

The Orang Asli in settlements around Gua Musang have been putting up barricades to block logging companies from coming in to clear large tracts of land.

Then, early last month, the authorities were said to have set the barricades ablaze and also, according to witnesses, burnt the huts that were set up by the Orang Asli near the barricades.

It was previously reported that 80% of the logging activities took place in and around Orang Asli settlements.