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Orang Asal kept in the dark
Published on: Friday, December 31, 2021
By: David Thien
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Top left to right: Adrian, Paulus and Kon. Left to right: Jasmih, Gordon and Dr Kamai.
Kota Kinabalu: Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia  (JOAS) President Paulus Gahin expressed concern over the secretive nature of the Nature Conservation Agreement (NCA) signed with a foreign company for 100 years, starting with 600,000 hectares in Sabah, possibly to be expanded up to two million hectares of forest.

He said it was due to the foreign media’s initial expose that they knew the deal that ignored indigenous people’s rights to their free and prior informed consent (FPIC) as it would affect “water and natural forest resources of the indigenous people.” 

“Some might face eviction from forest reserves,” he said.

Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia or the Indigenous Peoples’ Network of Malaysia (JOAS) is an organisation advocating indigenous peoples’ rights in Malaysia.

FPIC is a specific right that pertains to indigenous peoples and is recognised in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). It allows them to give or withhold consent to a project that may affect them or their territories.

Paulus was addressing a webinar entitled “Forum Matlamat Pembangunan Lestari (SDG) & Pelaksanaannya di Kalangan Orang Asal Di Malaysia” (Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs] Implementation Amongst Indigenous People in Malaysia), moderated by former Senator Adrain Banie Lasimbang, recently.

The Sustainable Development Goals or Global Goals are a collection of 17 interlinked global goals designed to be a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all”. The SDGs were set up in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly and are intended to be achieved by 2030.

Paulus also recalled 2021 as a year where there were regrettably reported deaths of Orang Asli from contaminated water supply in West Malaysia, besides litigation cases in which the indigenous people lost in courts in Sarawak over Native Customary Rights or NCR over their land in dispute with the Sarawak Government and some commercial companies granted titles on disputed lands.

The JOAS participated event was organised together with the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC), Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), the European Union (EU) and Partners of Community Organisations in Sabah (Pacos Trust) a community-based organisation dedicated to supporting indigenous communities in Sabah. 

The 17 SDGs are: (1) No poverty, (2) Zero hunger, (3) Good health and wellbeing, (4) Quality education, (5) Gender equality, (6) Clean water and sanitation, (7) Affordable and clean energy, (8) Decent work and economic growth, (9) Industry, innovation and infrastructure, (10) Reduced inequality (11) Sustainable cities and communities, (12) Responsible consumption and production, (13) Climate action, (14) Life below water, (15) Life on land, (16) Peace, justice and strong institutions, (17) Partnership for the goals.

Panel speaker Jasmih Slamat, head of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) Sabah Office in Kota Kinabalu, in his presentation, regretted the absence of representatives from the federal Economic Planning Unit (EPU) and the Sabah Government’s Economic Planning Unit (Upen) participating in the forum.

He hoped in future, EPU and Upen could be represented. He elaborated on the 17 SDGs and their importance to the indigenous communities. 

He said Suhakam and partner NGOs are determined to leave no one behind in the upliftment of the economy of indigenous people with nine more years to meet SDGs targets by 2030. Jasmih Slamat said Suhakam’s office here is open to input by the public.

In his presentation, Gordon John of Pacos Trust said indigenous people’s identity and livelihood were tied to their  socio-cultural heritage, and from their lands, development planning should originate from grassroot level, not top-down dictates by bureaucrats and politicians, to fulfil the SDGs ideals of “no poverty, no hunger, good health and wellbeing, equitable and fair development, quality education, gender equality and reduction of inequality.

Gordon claimed that input on education from indigenous people and women were not factored in by policy makers and decision makers in the past, and this trend should be improved with their participation, and in the fulfilment of the SDGs.

According to a Universiti Malaya Anthropology and Sociology Department panel speaker Dr Kamal Solhaimi Fadzil, who echoed the livelihood link between the identity of indigenous people and their lands, need to be publicized for understanding and limiting conflicts with their human rights, such as with loggers. There are still many outstanding issues of lack of clean water supply and electricity power supply to indigenous communities in Malaysia as well as quality schooling access for their children that the media should highlight.

Therefore,  the media role in the introduction, public awareness and implementation of SDGs by UNDP have benefitted the indigenous communities worldwide according to them more recognition and respect of their rights to their way of life and desire to progress into the modern economic system of their countries. Bank Negara and bureaucrats have an important role to play in this aspect.

Civil Society Organization (CSO) SDG CSO Alliance activist on indigenous people affairs and researcher Dr Kon Onn Sein of OA Organik said that SDGs aim to leave no one behind in poverty alleviation measures and to promote inclusive development that is fair, equitable with good governance, proper environmental stewardship of lands to mitigate and alleviate climate change concerns.

“Nowadays, when investors assess investing in companies, and banks contemplating financing projects, they want to see whether the companies have their ESG commitments in place towards SDGs promoting environmental protection, mitigate climate change and solve social concerns and human rights of indigenous communities,” he said.

He claimed that in terms of forestry protection, there was 50 per cent less destruction of forest in areas where indigenous people live. Ecology and natural resources contribute up to 55 per cent of global GDP from areas under indigenous people, who are, thus, reliable partners to global GDP growth.

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