PETALING JAYA: Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS) has called on the Forestry Department to engage meaningfully with indigenous communities across Malaysia instead of resorting to aggressive measures, such as evicting tribes and blocking efforts to protect traditional lands in forests.
The NGO, which focuses on native welfare in the country, said this in condemning the demolition of houses belonging to the Dusun Kiulu people in Tongod, Sabah, on March 17.
“The Dusun Kiulu community are now left homeless by the brutal act,” Juhaidi Marindal, vice-president of JOAS’ Sabah chapter, said in a statement today.
He said the department had accused the villagers of Kampung Bobotong of encroaching onto forest reserve land.
“The Dusun Kiulu have been living in the area well before the area was gazetted as forest reserve land, and they have planted fruit trees and oil palm in the area to earn a living,” he said.
“The department ought to engage with the villagers to find a peaceful solution before taking such drastic actions.
“Rather than vilifying us, the Orang Asal (indigenous people), we hope that the Forestry Department will engage with us meaningfully,” he said.
Juhaidi added that the department is understood to have halted the demolition and given the villagers until March 30 to move out from the area before they proceed to tear down the houses.
The Borneo Today website reported yesterday that the demolition had taken place despite the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) writing to the department requesting for more details of the alleged encroachment.
The report said the department’s personnel, accompanied by uniformed officers, used chain saws to tear down the houses of the natives.
JOAS president Yusri Ahon said he was alarmed by the department’s actions, not only in Sabah but also in peninsular Malaysia.
He said the alleged atrocities in Sabah came on the heels of the Kelantan Forestry Department demolishing blockades built by the Temiar Orang Asli in the state to protect the forest there from logging activities.
Numerous Orang Asli have been arrested by the Kelantan Forestry Department in connection with the blockades they put up to stop loggers from entering the forest reserve area in Gua Musang.
This has caused an outrage among the Orang Asli nationwide, who claim that the state government failed to look after their welfare.
“The Orang Asal in Sabah have successfully practised conservation methods such as the ‘tagal’ system, which restores fish populations in rivers.
“They (Forestry Department) should stop their aggressive methods and start working with the Orang Asal to preserve our remaining forest,” Yusri added.
Beverly Joeman, director of JOAS’ secretariat, pointed out that Malaysia is a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The declaration requires states to consult and cooperate in good faith with indigenous peoples in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.