Call for recognition of land rights of indigenous people
Published on: Saturday, March 21, 2015

Kota Kinabalu: Legal recognition of indigenous people and their entitlement to collective rights to their lands, territories and resources under international human rights standard has continued to be denied by many states. Massive logging, expansion of oil palm plantations and wide-scale mono cropping, conversion of forestlands to commercial and destructive projects such as the development of mega-dams still prevail, stripping the indigenous people from their lands.

These are taking place in spite of the serious problem of global carbon emission arising from the deforestation and forest degradation, which are major causes of climate change.

However, forest is the lifeline and cultural heritage of more than 100 million indigenous people in Asia, said Jaringan Orang Asal Se-Malaysia(JOAS) in a statement, here.

Based on the World Bank Study "The role of the Indigenous Peoples in Biodiversity Conservation: The Natural but Often Forgotten Partners", traditional indigenous territories encompass up to 22 per cent of the world's land surface and they coincide with areas that hold 80 per cent of the planet's biodiversity.

"This is the result of indigenous peoples' historical stewardship and practice of low carbon and sustainable management of forests as their territory.

"On the other hand, the traditional livelihoods of indigenous peoples such as shifting cultivation/rotational agriculture, gathering of non-timber forest products and hunting are being blamed as serious causes of deforestation and forest degradation.

"Despite the fact that evidence-based studies demonstrate the contrary, 10 countries in Asia have policies prohibiting or phasing such traditional practices resulting in food insecurity, malnutrition, loss of biodiversity and traditional knowledge, and violations of civil and political rights," it said.

Thomas Jalong, the president of JOAS said: "Forests are integral to the survival and source of livelihoods and culture of indigenous peoples.

"They are our identities. On the International Day of Forests, we called upon the recognition of the land rights of indigenous peoples as key to the forest-based solutions to climate change."

While countries like the Philippines, India, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia have already attained milestone advances in the preserving the rights of its indigenous, the implementation of these progressive laws remained weak, problematic, disputed and challenged.

Some policies enabled land grabs and individuals to be in possession of a collection of lands in many cases, he said.

"The lack of political will to fully respect and recognise the customary land rights of indigenous peoples remains a major obstacle in the sustainable management of forests and in ensuring the success of REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation of developing countries) as a climate change mitigation measure.

"Although the REDD+ Cancun agreement includes social and environmental safeguards, the formulation of REDD+ national strategies and action plans by states in many countries does not harmonise with their laws and policies in line with the Cancun REDD+ safeguards including respect for the rights of indigenous peoples as affirmed by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)," he said.

The international community needs to recognise the collective rights and the vital role and contributions of indigenous peoples in sustainable forest management.

Further, it should decisively address the real causes of deforestation and forest degradation instead of putting the blame on indigenous peoples and local communities, he added.

Says Joan Carling, the Secretary General of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP): "It is urgent to upscale the recognition of the forest rights of indigenous peoples through the demarcation and proper implementation of laws recognising the collective land rights of indigenous peoples. Securing indigenous peoples' customary land rights and sustainable livelihoods is necessary for the success of forest-based solutions to climate change and for sustainable development."

As part of the celebration of the International Day of Forest, JOAS and AIPP together with SUARAM called on the Malaysia government to:

i. Immediately undertake necessary policy reforms to recognise and protect the land and forest rights of indigenous peoples including the sustainable livelihoods of indigenous peoples such as shifting cultivation/ rotational agriculture, and gathering of non-timber forest products. Use protections contained in Article 161 (a)(5) of the Federal Constitution as the basis to recognise customary land rights.

ii. Immediately implement in partnership with indigenous peoples and other stakeholders the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) and FAO Voluntary Guidelines on the responsible governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forests in the context of national food security.

iii. Adhere to terms of procedures laid down in treaties, laws, regulations and guidelines such as in certification schemes like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the Malaysian Timber Certfcaton Scheme (MTCS), Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA-FLEGT), and the Business Council for Sustainability and Responsibility Malaysia (BCSRM).

iv. Guarantee the implementation of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) on any climate change mitigation action involving forests such as the REDD+, biofuel plantations and large dams.

v. Ensure full and effective participation of indigenous peoples including indigenous women and youth in the formulation, implementation, monitoring and reporting of any forest-related mitigation programmes and projects at all levels.

vi. Recognise and promote indigenous peoples' traditional knowledge, traditional occupations and food systems including the roles and contributions of indigenous women.

vii. Adopt all the recommendations in the Suhakam National Inquiry into the land rights of the Orang Asal.


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