The Malaysian Bar today reminded Putrajaya and the PAS-led Kelantan Government that both owe fiduciary duty to protect Orang Asli land rights.
Its president, Steven Thiru, said this was recognised by the Malaysian courts in a number of judgments since 1997.
“It is unconscionable for the Federal Government to abdicate its responsibility by saying that it has no constitutional power over matters relating to lands in Peninsular Malaysia,” he said in a statement.
Thiru said Article 83 empowered the Federal Government with the legal power to acquire state land for federal purposes, which included the welfare of the Orang Asli.
In the past, he said the Federal Government had legislated and formulated policies in respect of land and resource matters through the National Land Council, where it held de facto control and power.
“It is, therefore, disingenuous of the Federal Government to suggest that it is completely powerless to assist the Orang Asli in gaining legal recognition to their customary areas.”
Thiru’s response came following the recent blockade by 200 Temiar Orang Asli who were protesting against logging activities carried out within the Balah forest reserve, near Gua Musang, Kelantan.
They claimed the logging activities encroached upon lands claimed by the local Temiar community to be their customary lands.
The blockade was dismantled by the loggers.
The Orang Asli later lodged police reports against the agents of the logging companies for alleged criminal intimidation and impersonation of police and enforcement officers.
The Kelantan Government later said logging was its main source of income.
Thiru said the Kelantan Government’s reported response to the blockade suggested that it asserted the absolute right to grant logging licences that included areas overlapping Orang Asli customary areas.
He said the Orang Asli enjoyed customary rights in respect of lands that they had inhabited for generations, without express executive or legislative recognition.
Thiru said Malaysian superior courts had recognised and repeatedly reaffirmed these rights since 1997 due to, among others, the special position enjoyed by the Orang Asli under the Constitution.
He urged the authorities to dismantle any blockade leading to the Orang Asli settlements and urged the state government to halt all logging activities carried out in Orang Asli areas.
“We call upon the federal and state governments to revise their land, resource and environmental policies to give effect to the legal pronouncements of the Malaysian superior courts which have recognised the customary rights of Orang Asli to their lands, territories and resources.”