A-G’s Chambers files civil suit to protect Orang Asli land rights

PETALING JAYA: The Federal Government will be taking legal action on behalf of Orang Asli against the Kelantan government as it recognises that it has a constitutional role and legal responsibility to protect and promote the community’s well-being and progress.

Attorney-General Tommy Thomas said that Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the Cabinet had decided that legal proceedings should be considered to reflect the government’s commitment to the Orang Asli community.

He said, throughout the world, the rights of the aboriginals’ have been recognized, declared and enforced in cases of court ruling.

The move initiated by Thomas is said to be an unprecedented one as it is the first time that the Federal Government is taking legal action against the state over the rights of the indigenous folks.

“The Apex courts in Australia, Canada and India have recognized a bundle of rights for their indigenous or ‘First Nations’ . So, it is time for Malaysia become a country that recognizes and protects the rights of our Orang Asli.

“They (orang asli) have an ancient history that is rich. Since their birth, they have lived peacefully and have a sustainable presence in the Malayan forest.

“The community also has a strong connection with their ancestral lands, of whom they rely heavily on the purpose of accommodating life, economic and cultural resources,“ he said in a historic statement.

Thomas also expressed his grief, saying that the rights of the Orang Asli as citizens have been neglected and abused for sometime.

He exemplified the extensive deforestation and commercial development that has broken into indigenous customs territory.

He said, in most cases, the Orang Asli were not consulted.

“Rarely they were given fair compensation. They usually avoid direct opposition or confrontation by retreating deeper into the forests, “ he said

He explained that any one who tries to defend their customary lands was faced with a very disproportionate power and they have no one to champion their cause.

The Kelantan government and its agencies recently, Thomas said; have issued logging licenses to private companies who entered the Orang Asli Temiar customs at Pos Simpor near Gua Musang.

“Using heavy machinery, they have cut down and brought out logs from a vast forest area, to set up durian and rubber tree plantations,

“Their actions have deprived Orang Asli Temiar of their native land and resources, resulting in severe erosion, pollution and irreplaceable damage to the ecology landscape of Pos Simpor, “ he said

He also regretted that the Kelantan government had not even negotiated with Orang Asli Temiar before approving logging licenses or offering compensation for the denial of their customary land rights.

He said having researched the law, the Attorney General’s Chambers filed a civil suit in the High Court at Kota Bharu on behalf of the Federal Government.

The Defendants are the State Government of Kelantan, the Kelantan state director of Land and Mines Department, the Forestry Department Director and five private entities seeking ‘inter alia’ the legal recognition of recognition of the Temiar Orang Asli’s native land rights in Pos Simpor and injunctions to prevent aggression and destruction of customary land for commercial gain by private sector.

“The beneficiary of this suit are the Orang Asli. This litigation cost will be free to them.

Although the Kelantan government has jurisdiction over matters pertaining to land, forestry and minerals, they are also bound to the primary duty to protect and preserve the well-being of Orang Asli Temiar.

“Commercial development as well as profit seeking businesses should be made without sacrificing the Orang Asli Temiar and their inherent rights as citizens of this country.”