The human rights commission, however, advises the Orang Asli to consider legal recourse as it has limited powers in land ownership disputes

KUALA LUMPUR: The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) today accepted a memorandum from Lojing, Gua Musang Orang Asli (OA) asking it to begin an inquiry on the Kelantan state government for allegedly violating their rights to ancestral land.

PSM central committee member  S Arutchelvan and secretary-general A Sivarajan today led 30 OA representatives from 12 villages in and around the Lojing area to hand over the memorandum.

“We are here today to send this memorandum asking Suhakam to open an inquiry on the Kelantan state government for allowing uncontrolled opening of agricultural land by private companies on land that we have lived on for hundreds of years.

“Our homes, historical sites, graves have all been destroyed. There is nothing left,” said the group’s main spokesperson Muya Phasaid.

Kampung Kuala Tahu village head Angah bin Hitam said that the Kelantan state government has been allowing private companies to grow vegetable crops, including palm trees, in the area since the 1980s, but now it has reached a point where there are more vegetable farms than trees in the area.

“There are no more trees in the Lojing permanent forest reserve, only ‘plastic’ trees,” said Sigar village head Rada bin Jambu.

Sivarajan said that by ignoring the rights of the OA to the lands they have lived in all their lives, the Kelantan government has gone against the principles of The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), The United Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the Federal Constitution.

“Their basic rights to live have to be restored as the first people of the nation like in Canada and Australia where the rights of the indigenous people are protected,” said Sivarajan.

He  questioned why the Kelantan government and Forestry Department laws are held up as superior to the Federal Constitution which clearly states in article 8(5)(c) that the special position of the Orang Asli will be protected.

“The state government has gone against the Federal Constitution by approving licenses for these companies to operate on lands they know are occupied by OA for generations. The Kelantan state government has failed in their duty to protect the OA. In fact even GLCs are involved in OA land encroachment. Why do state laws supersede the Federal Constitution?” questioned Sivarajan.

Suhakam commissioner Jerald Joseph acknowledged the group’s concerns, saying Suhakam is aware that the OA land grab issue has been going on since the 80s, even after countless police reports, letters of protest and memorandums were sent to the Kelantan government and the menteri besar by the OA.

Another Suhakam commissioner, Sarawak-born Francis Johen Anak Adam, differed saying it would be wise for the OA to look into legal recourse since the usual police reports and memorandum have been unsuccessful thus far.

“My concern is more on how are you (OA) going to reclaim the land? It has to be within the law. Why not do more than write letters and send memorandums? If these are gazetted lands then your rights would be higher. Our (Suhakam’s) powers are limited, but we will do what we can,” said Francis.

Sivarajan said that legal recourse cost too much and the OA cannot afford to fork out money every time there is a land dispute.

“We need to look at the bigger picture – they are the first people of the nation, even before these current laws were enacted. It is like allowing a visitor to stay in your home for so long that one day they seek to evict you because you don’t have the grant to that house,” said Sivarajan.

The gathering ended with Jerald saying that Suhakam will discuss in a committee meeting next week about starting an inquiry as requested. He also said that Suhakam and the Malaysian Bar will look into drawing up a special document on land rights and division of law when it comes to land rights.

“We will also write a letter to the Kelantan state government on this,” said Jerald.