Kota Kinabalu: Indigenous peoples in the country are among the most marginalised groups today due to the many gaps between the Federal Constitution and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the International Labour Organisation’s Convention No. 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (ILO C169).
Indigenous Peoples Network of Malaysia (Joas) Secretariat Director, Jannie Lasimbang, said one of the most apparent gaps is the absence of any provision that safeguards the culture, traditional knowledge and language of indigenous people in the Constitution.
“In terms of land and natural resources, because we had so many experiences with regards to this issue, there have been a lot of improvement over the years. A lot more issues have been covered in the Constitution, but in terms of implementation, it is still not as beautiful as its theory,” she said.
Jannie said this during the presentation of the Red and Raw: Indigenous Rights in Malaysia and the Law book to the Director of State Library Wong Vui Yin here, Friday.
According to Wong, the book will be made available in all State library’s 120 branches although a Malay version of the book would be preferable as it would garner bigger readership, especially in places such as Long Pasia.
During the ceremony, Jannie pledged 40 complementary copies and hoped the book will be put to good use by the public, especially the indigenous people, as a reference book on indigenous people’s rights.
The book lists 15 guiding principles contained in international law that should be adhered to by governments.
These principles are recognition and identification, non-discrimination, self-governance, free, prior and informed consent, lands and territories, natural resources and environment, culture, traditional knowledge and language, access to justice, development, education, media, health, gender equality, children and youth and cross-border rights.
The book dissects each of the 15 principles and compares them to the existing provisions in the federal and state laws, highlighting which area had been covered considerably and which had been found wanting.
“In terms of gender equality, with regards to women rights, there is no specific law for indigenous people’s women. This relates to health issue where ‘bidan kampung’ who plays such an important role for villagers in remote Sabah, their posts have been done away with, supposedly for hygienic reason.
“If it is not so inconvenient to the government, why not train indigenous women to become certified midwives? Make sure the training is comprehensive enough so as to comply with the Health Ministry’s requirements. “Don’t just get rid of such an important institution because it is considered ‘unhygienic’,” she said.
Jannie also highlighted the need for amendment of the current State ordinance that lists down those who are considered ‘indigenous peoples’ in Sabah.
Comparing Sabah to Sarawak and the peninsula, Jannie said Sabah does not have an exhaustive list of natives as compared to the other two provinces.
Even the race of the children, she said can be stated or even altered according to the whims and fancies of the parents.
There are also many indigenous Malaysians who are not documented, depriving them access to basic human rights and government services such as healthcare, housing, education, basic amenities and the right to vote.
“One of the first steps to recognise the rights of the indigenous people is to increase the efficiency of the National Registration Department in registering citizenship for remote indigenous communities,” she said.
Another issue that the book highlights is the rights of indigenous peoples to set up their own media that uses their languages, promote their cultures and provides knowledge that matters to the groups while at the same time has access to the mainstream media without discrimination.
“States must take effective measures to ensure that State-owned media duly reflect indigenous cultural diversity and also encourage privately owned media to adequately reflect indigenous cultural diversity,” she said.
Jannie stated that the government had increasingly interfered in the indigenous people traditional governance system, especially in the selection and appointment of customary leaders and suggested that a process to allow for communities to make their own selection, and support for self-governance has to be put in place.
Indigenous groups make up 61.2 per cent of Sabah’s 3.2 million population. There are 39 ethnic groups speaking more than 50 languages and 80 dialects with the Dusunic, Murutic and Paitanic groups being the largest among them.