Kota Kinabalu: The Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) will conduct a field investigation on the reported demolition of indigenous communities’ houses in Kg Bobotong, Tongod, by the Sabah Forestry Department.
The commission’s investigating officer of the case, Heflin Dino, said the investigation will be conducted based on Act 597 of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 4(1) that clearly states its duty “to inquire into complaints regarding infringements of human rights referred to in Section 12” of the Act.
Pending the field investigation, Heflin appealed to all parties to remain calm.
“I do hope that the public would not fuel hate sentiments toward parties until we complete the investigation,” he told Daily Express, Monday.
More than 200 villagers of the village in Mukim Entilibon claimed to be living in fear after 16 out of 60 houses were demolished by the department on March 16.
They claimed to have been living in the village for 38 years.
Their spokesman, Jimmy Iban, had reportedly said all the villagers are Dusun originating from Kiulu, Tuaran.
Relating the heart-breaking incident, Jimmy said villagers had cried and pleaded with the SFD personnel not to tear down their homes pending the outcome of their objection to an eviction notice which they had submitted to Suhakam.
He reportedly said the personnel ignored their cries and pleas while one of the officers was claimed to have said that the Suhakam director and even the Chief Minister could not defend them.
During the demolition exercise, he said villagers did not have the chance to grab their personal belongings.
About 100 SFD personnel from the Destroyer Unit took part in the demolition, accompanied by the armed police and their canine unit.
Jimmy had said the settlement and orchards have existed since 1979, including those within the forest reserve who had been directed by the SFD to move out, last October. He said in that year 10 households comprising 160 people migrated from Kiulu to settle in their current land to start a better life. At that time, he said, the area had been logged by companies.
He also said 85 per cent of the area is cultivated with rubber and the remaining with palm oil, fruit trees and other crops.
Condemning the demolition, the Jaringan Orang Asal Se-Malaysia (JOAS) described SFD’s action as inhumane and brutal for they have left a community homeless.
“The Dusun community have been living in the area well before the area was gazetted as a forest reserve and they have planted fruit trees and palm oil to earn a living,” said JOAS Sabah Chapter Vice President Juhaidi Marindal, in a statement issued, Monday.
He insisted that the SFD should have engaged with the villagers to find a peaceful solution.
JOAS President Yusri Ahon added that the indigenous communities in Sabah should be treated as partners in conservation as they have successfully practised conservation methods such as the Tagal system.
The organisation’s secretariat director, Beverly Joeman, reiterated that Malaysia is a signatory of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) that requires states to consult and cooperate in good faith with Indigenous Peoples in order to obtain their free prior and informed consent (FPIC) before adopting and implementing legislatives or administrative measures that may affect them.
JOAS claimed to have reliably learnt that the SFD has since halted the demolition process and given the villagers until March 30, 2017 to move out from the area before they proceed with the demolition operations.
Suhakan had few years ago conducted a National Inquiry into the Land Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Malaysia following numerous complaints and memoranda it had received over the years on alleged infringements of the rights of the Indigenous Peoples to their customary land.
The National Inquiry examined the root causes of the problems relating to native customary right (NCR) to land in a comprehensive manner from a human rights perspective and will recommend appropriate solutions to the problems. – Leonard Alaza