Independent body for natives urged

Datuk Detta Samen

KUCHING: The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) has recommended to the government that an independent body called National Indigenous People’s Commission be set up to advise the government on land and other indigenous issues.

Its state commissioner Datuk Detta Samen said this was one of the important recommendations made by the commission after the national inquiry on the customary rights land of the indigenous people held from Dec 2010 to June last year.

He said apart from advising the government on legal provisions and policies related to the indigenous people, the proposed body’s other roles would be proposing and monitoring the implementation of native customary rights (NCR) land, encouraging the participation of indigenous people from every level and conducting studies on issues related to the well-being of the indigenous people.

He suggested that members of the independent commission comprise representatives from the indigenous communities who have the support of their own people.

“If you have the commission, they will be in better position to advise our government on the customs, historical backgrounds and land in a particular indigenous community,” Detta told reporters after a briefing on the national inquiry report on NCR land in the state to non-governmental organisations at Hilton Hotel here yesterday.

When asked to comment on Barisan Nasional’s (BN) manifesto that promised to gazette all NCR lands should it come to power after the 13th general election, Detta opined that it was a good move on the part of the coalition.

“I think it is a very good move (by BN), even though land is a state matter but this is BN manifesto so I believe our state government will follow the manifesto,” he said.

Detta also presented 17 other recommendations made by Suhakam to the government, among which are guaranteeing NCR land holdings, setting up of a redress mechanism, reviewing the legal provisions for restitution of land and compensation for land acquisition, reviewing of previous policies and planning on land acquisition and reviewing of correspondence on land issues involving the indigenous communities in the development of their NCR lands.

Meanwhile, during the question and answer session, Punan National Association representative Gebril Atong called on the government to insist that companies developing NCR land extend their corporate social responsibilities (CSR) to the local communities.

He said there were cases where companies had belittled the local communities and threatened them that if they wanted the companies to extend their CSR to them, landowners would need to agree to whatever conditions set by the companies.

Another representative from the Orang Ulu community Ungan Lisut from Sungai Asap urged Suhakam to highlight cases of infringement on the rights of the indigenous people to the attention of the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong so that their rights would be protected in the same way like the indigenous people in west Malaysia.

“We know that the government’s development plan is good for our community but it should not be done to the extent that the rights of the local people are not taken care of.

“When we were resettled from Bakun, my parents did not even receive a sen from the government. Also, our settlement in Sungai Asap is now full of oil palm plantations and our community leaders do not even dare say anything,” Ungan said.

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