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Rights of Indigenous people ignored – CJ

Richard (right) officiating the Borneo Rainforest Law Conference 2019 yesterday at The Pacific Sutera, together with other guests.

18th January, 2019


KOTA KINABALU: The rights of Malaysia’s indigenous people is still overlooked and ignored despite the country’s adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People’s (UNDRIP) in 2010, said Chief Justice Tan Sri Richard Malanjum

“Until today, an audit has yet to be conducted to determine how much the government has done in safeguarding the rights of indigenous people,” he told reporters after officiating the Borneo Rainforest Law Conference 2019, yesterday.

Underlining the need for Malaysia to better protect the rights of indigenous peoples, Richard highlighted the audit is necessary to ensure the country’s laws are in line with the UN Declaration.

“Through this way, we can see if there are any laws that conflict with the Declaration, and this is important to ensure the government fulfils its commitment in safeguarding indigenous people’s rights stated in the Declaration,” he said.

Furthermore, Richard stated the indigenous court system in Sabah and Sarawak needs to be respected and strengthened in resolving matters based on customs of the indigenous people.

Worryingly, he said indigenous people in Sabah were losing out due to flaws in the current law system, and there have been cases for example, in which people appointed to oversee native cases may not understand the law.

“Our civil law judges should understand the native law system instead of interpreting from the prism of the civil legal system,” he said, noting the native court judicial system operates differently from civil law.

The indigenous people in Sabah were losing out in many aspects, legally, in terms of development and so on, he said.

In terms of legal matters, those presiding over native courts consist of those who are not natives themselves, or do not know the laws.

“Civil laws are applied to native issues and it is not fair for the natives,” he said, adding lawyers should be more proactive in providing Pro Bono public litigation for them.

“And also in the villages, when they dispute over something, they will go to court and one will win and the other will lose,” Malanjum said.

He said in cases like these, it was preferable to have the matters settled via mediation because then it results in a win-win situation whereas a ruling where one wins and the other loses would if fact prolong the fight.

As for why the indigenous are dubbed the most vulnerable and easily exploited group of people, he said it was because they are poor, lack development and self-improvement opportunities due to limited education and poor leadership.

“When they are poor, they can be easily persuaded to sell off lands, resulting them in having even lesser means to make a living,” Malanjum said.

He said the indigenous who live in the remote areas of the country do not even get to enjoy basic amenities such as water and electricity.

“So how do you expect them to improve themselves if nothing is provided? They are already poor and without basic facilities, what ways can they have a better live?” he asked.

Malanjum said the indigenous people are not at risk of dying out from outside elements, but rather, from people as close as their neighbours.

He said we should be helping them get out of their predicaments but instead those especially the powerful, mega companies and even local leaders are the ones pushing them deeper into hell.

Mediation is preferred to resolve disputes that occurred in the native level according to Richard, which is based on the principle that all parties involved can reach an amicable solution without feelings of loss and feel that justice have been served on their behalf.

He pointed out native courts differs from the framework of civil law in which rulings are based on whether the plaintiff or the defendant wins or loses the case.

“We should be encouraging more mediation to resolve disputes instead of civil courts because we want a situation so both parties can settle their disputes amicably and reciprocally,”said Richard, noting that new training workshops had to be conducted for newly appointed indigenous chiefs to give them a proper understanding of native laws.

Elaborating further, he proposed that more attention is given on the study of indigenous laws, taking cue from countries such as New Zealand which committed much research into the studies of indigenous peoples’ laws and rights. “It would be an excellent field of study that Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) could perhaps take up this idea, because for now, there’s hardly any subject on indigenous laws taught in law faculties,” he said.

Furthermore, he stressed there is a dire need for local graduates trained in the indigenous laws, and urged more local law students to take up studies on indigenous rights and laws. Richard also disapproved on the term ‘native’ and hopes the word would be dropped and replaced with ‘indigenous’ to describe ethnic peoples in the country.

“Unfortunately, we(Malaysia) is still using the word native which has lots of negative connotations, the perception was created by the media and Western powers in the early days,” he said, adding that a working paper would be submitted to the government after the conference.

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