2g1: Indigenous Peoples
The Orang Asli population numbered about 217,000, according to 2019
estimates. Comprising 18 tribes scattered across the rural areas of the peninsula,
they remain among the poorest and most disadvantaged of marginalised groups
in the country. They lack basic facilities such as electricity, clean water supply,
tarred roads to their villages, access to health clinics and education. For decades,
their rights as indigenous people have been violated through the lack of official
recognition of their right to customary land territories, which are mostly owned
by the government although Orang Asli customary land and laws existed long
before the independence of Malaya. Malaysia adopted the UN Declaration on the
Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007 but continues to lag behind in
implementing it as the Orang Asli face an ongoing war against increased
encroachment of their customary lands for economic activities such as
agriculture, logging, hydro-electric dams and tourism.
I: Recognition of Customary Land & Territories
Both federal and state governments have not been prioritising this issue, thus
making it an ongoing concern. The often-used excuse peddled by the federal
government is that land matters are not under its jurisdiction but that of the state
1. Impose a moratorium on third-party projects involving Orang Asli
Since it is likely that pending third-party projects involving Orang Asli customary
lands were planned without their knowledge or consent, such projects should be
halted until the land recognition process is completed.
2. Set up a special commission.
The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), in its 2015 Report of
the National Inquiry into the Land Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Malaysia,
recommended the establishment of an independent National Commission on
Indigenous Peoples comprising individual experts and relevant stakeholders. The
function of this Commission would be, among others, to review recognition as
well as promotion and protection of Orang Asli rights to their land and identity.
3. The federal and state governments must have equal and joint
responsibility over Orang Asli customary land matters.
The land and its surrounding nature are fundamental to the cultural customs,
beliefs and collective identity of the Orang Asli, thus both the federal and state
governments should be equally responsible so that the recognition of Orang Asli
customary land territories can be fast-tracked without further delay.
(Tijah Yok Chopil, Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Semenanjung Malaysia (JKOASM), Proposal 2G1-1)
4. Amend and harmonise existing laws affecting the Orang Asli to protect
their customary land, and enact new laws to secure their rights.
The Orang Asli have had to resort to the courts to claim their customary land.
Despite their many wins, however, the government has not taken heed of the
underlying issues of injustice that were revealed. The government should make a
new law to address the weaknesses in administering Orang Asli lands, and
harmonise all relevant laws so that they are in line with recognising customary
land and territories. The issue of land recognition must be resolved to prevent
further land loss or imbalances, such as the overlapping of Orang Asli land with
the gazettement of protection areas (e.g. forest and wildlife reserves and national
parks). The recognition of customary land and territories will ensure the
continuity of the practice of cultural customs, beliefs, traditional knowledge,
identity, history and ancestral legends. The Orang Asli can also develop their
economy on customary territorial land safely.
The Orang Asli must be accorded the right to self-determination.
II: Development Projects
An important principle of the UNDRIP, which Malaysia is signatory to, is free,
prior and informed consent. The government should reflect this in practice by
ensuring that all decisions involving the development, advancement and
acquisition of territorial land of Orang Asli are transparent and take into account
the decisions of the community themselves.
5. Ensure carefully planned and coordinated development programmes.
Policymakers for Orang Asli development should sit at the same table to sort out
conflicting plans that will otherwise result in incomplete or half-hearted projects.
Instead of taking a siloed approach, policymakers and programme coordinators
should talk to each other and share information, with the Orang Asli as well, to
ensure that all development programmes designed for the community are truly
beneficial to them, implemented responsibly in terms of cost and quality, and
completed. For example, although the Government has set aside housing quotas
for the Orang Asli under the Hardcore Poor Housing Programme (PPRT, to use
the more well-known Malay acronym) these are typically of poor quality, and the
infrastructure and design of the housing units are incompatible with their natural
way of living.
6. Ensure completion of planned projects.
Failed or delayed developmental and economic projects for the Orang Asli are a
common occurrence. Many villages do not have full or quality basic amenities–
for example, no electricity supply although electric utility poles have been
planted; or the wiring is ready to be installed but the poles are not in place; or
water pipes have been laid out but there is still no water supply.
7. Consult and inform the local community about any proposed land
Often, land development projects in Orang Asli areas are proposed or
implemented without any consultation with or agreement from the local
community, and later, just as inexplicably abandoned. There is no formal
monitoring or notification given to the local community as to the progress of the
project, and when it ends up failing or being abandoned, all those involved would
be pointing fingers at each other, with no one assuming any responsibility. Any
land development project planning therefore should be consultative to ensure
completion and accountability to the local community.
(Tijah Yok Chopil, JKOASM, Proposal 2G1-1)
III: Economic Development
Land is a key policy issue that is linked to all Orang Asli problems. If this issue
can be resolved, others such as the economy, education, safety, development and
so on can be resolved too.
(Tijah Yok Chopil, JKOASM, Proposal 2G1-1)
8. Allow the Orang Asli to apply for government assistance and necessary
licences or certificates.
The Orang Asli have not been able to apply for governmental assistance from
agencies such as the Department of Agriculture to boost their economy, as their
land is deemed ‘illegal’. Without the requisite licence from the Malaysian Palm Oil
Board and certificate from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, Orang Asli
planters cannot sell their oil palm produce. Flexibility must be given to them to
obtain such licences and certificates through their community Tok Batin
(community leader) upon confirmation from the Department of Orang Asli
Development that the land being cultivated is within Orang Asli customary
IV: Freedom of Religion
Despite the guarantee of Freedom of Religion in Article 11 of the Federal
Constitution, there are still cases of Orang Asli being unknowingly or deceptively
converted to Islam by registration officers, teachers, among others. In most
cases, the individual concerned would only realise the deception that had been
committed on them when asked to produce their MyKad or birth certificate for
official purposes, finding out then that it states Islam as their religion. The Orang
Asli have a right to profess the beliefs of their ancestors and to not be forced or
deceived into converting to Islam. Yet, annulling such cases is a costly, time-
consuming, bureaucratic run-around. There are even plans by the Kelantan
Islamic Religious and Malay Customs Council to convert all Orang Asli in the
state by 2049.
9. Cease involuntary conversions to Islam, facilitate cancelling of such
Efforts to coerce the Orang Asli into converting to Islam and other involuntary
conversions must stop. The process of removing the religious status of Islam
from their MyKad and birth certificates in such cases should be simplified.
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