Dismantling of Orang Asli blockade by federal agencies raises questions over government’s commitment to Orang Asli land rights
29 August 2018
We refer to the dismantling of the blockade set up by the Orang Asli community in Gua Musang on 27 August 2018. In this incident, the dismantling of three blockades set up by the Orang Asli was reportedly carried out by over 300 members from various Federal and Kelantan State enforcement agencies including the police, Federal Reserve Unit and the Forestry Department.
The confrontation between the Orang Asli in Gua Musang and the Kelantan government has been ongoing since 2016 over land 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 has 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.
On 2 August 2018, Deputy Rural Development Minister, R. Sivarasa met with the Orang Asli community in Gua Musang and made a commitment to resolve the dispute with the Kelantan government and further asserted that it was their right to protect their land. On 10 August 2018, the Orang Asli also met Prime Minister 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.
Under the new government, a commitment was made in their manifesto to advance the interests of Orang Asli in Promise 38. This included implementing proposals from the National Inquiry Report on Indigenous Land Rights published by SUHAKAM in 2013, among other recommendations were to recognise indigenous customary rights to land, remedy land loss and to address land development issues and imbalances. The government further promised to revamp any unfair deals or agreements concerning the Orang Asli community.
The government must honour their manifesto in line with the nation’s collective hope for a ‘New Malaysia’ and end the marginalisation of the Orang Asli community. 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.
Lawyers for Liberty