All stakeholders must be consulted on the proposed aboriginal title act

By Hasmy Agam, Chairman of The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia refers to the recent announcement made by the Director-General of Orang Asli Development Department (JAKOA) on the Aboriginal Land Titles Policy and expresses its disappointment at the intention of the Government to proceed with the tabling of amendments to the Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954 (Act 134) in Parliament.

The Commission recalls its request to the Government to delay the tabling of any amendments to the Aboriginal Peoples Act until after the completion of its National Inquiry into the Land Rights of the Indigenous Peoples (National Inquiry) scheduled for the middle of 2012, and would urge it to defer the process of finalising any new policies and legislation with regard to the customary lands of the Orang Asli for submission to the Cabinet and the National Land Council until all efforts have been made to obtain free, prior and informed consent from all stakeholders, especially the affected Orang Asli.

The Commission, in its Annual Report 2008, had reminded the Government of its fiduciary obligation to consult and obtain consent from native communities prior to taking any actions that may infringe their native title rights. This is consistent with the principles contained in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which Malaysia has committed itself to uphold.

Furthermore, the Federal Constitution and relevant court decisions recognise and uphold the status of Orang Asli and their land rights as well as the special relationship between these communities and their lands. Recognition of and protection for native title is also required as part of the constitutional right to livelihood, which guarantees native title based on the essential role of land in the economies and cultural identity of native communities.

The Commission also wishes to emphasise that the ongoing National Inquiry is part of the Commission’s commitment to look into the systemic land issues and other matters related to the land – in response to persistent complaints from these communities – and hopes to make specific proposals to deal with Orang Asli land issues in a comprehensive manner that will be consistent with the provisions contained in the UNDRIP and the universal principles of human rights.