KUCHING: Two NGOs have called for the National Registration Department (NRD) in Sarawak to have autonomy. This is expected to help bring down the number of people having no personal documents as a result of non-compliance on Adat.
The Federal Government is either ignorant on Adat or attempting to block its implementation, they said. “Sabah and Sarawak must have the right to determine its own citizens and to deal with them.”
The NRD at present ignores the peculiar situation on the ground in Sarawak, added Sarawak 4 Sarawakians (S4S) and the Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA) in a statement.
NRD also does not comply with the International Convention on Human Rights, continued the two NGOs in the statement signed by S4S Chief Peter John Jaban.
The NGOs were taking their cue from a statement by Sarawak Welfare, Women and Community Wellbeing Minister Fatimah Abdullah on “disorderly marriages”.
As a result, many children of local fathers and mothers from across the border in Kalimantan, for example, are left stateless.
The statement quoted lawyer Simon Siah as saying that “Adat has the force of law in Sabah and Sarawak”.
This is not in dispute as the Court has recognised it time and again, stressed Siah.
He referred to the Native Court Ordinance 1992 which ensures the legal position of Adat. “This is in line with international law on the right of indigenous people to maintain systems and cultural practices from time immemorial,” said Siah.
In Sarawak, argued the NGOs, Adat plays a big part in the life of the Orang Asal and must be recognised by the NRD. “This is the unique challenge especially in the rural areas of Sarawak.”
Briefly, if personal documents continue to be issued in Sarawak based on rules and regulations drawn up in Putrajaya, a large number of Orang Asal would remain in a legal twilight zone.
S4S and SADIA charged that many Orang Asal have been denied an identity card by the NRD. “They are stateless, having no nationality.”
“NRD staff privately agree that the question of being stateless should not arise.”
The stateless do not have access to public healthcare facilities and education and even the right to be cared for equally by both parents, pointed out the statement.