KUCHING: The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) has praised the indigenous groups in the country, including those in Sarawak, for their resilience in responding to the challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The commission highlighted how the Iban villagers in Batu Niah had taken upon themselves to impose a fine of RM2,000 against outsiders entering their longhouses, as a measure to stop the spread of Covid-19 among the residents.
“Apart from that, the ‘ngabang’ (house-to-house and longhouse-to-longhouse visits) during the Gawai Dayak festival, a one-month harvesting festival, had been toned down to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
“Communities had also resorted to sourcing for food and herbs from the surrounding jungles as well as protecting their children from being exposed to other children,” said Suhakam in a statement issued on Sunday in conjunction with International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 2020 – themed ‘Covid-19 and Indigenous Peoples’ Resilience’.
Suhakam said indigenous groups had practised their traditional knowledge and solutions to survive, including through voluntary isolating and sealing off their territories as what took place in Gua Musang by the Mendriq tribe and also at Kampung Paya Mengkuang by the Jahut, Jakun and Semelai tribes.
It said the international community recognised that special measures were required to protect indigenous people’s rights and maintain their distinct cultures and way of life.
“The indigenous people are the poorest and marginalised group in Malaysia and their vulnerability had been further compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic, with their access to medicines, healthcare, food, education and livelihoods badly affected,” it said.
According to Suhakam, Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948 provides that ‘everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being for himself and his family including food, clothing, and medical care’.
It added that Article 8 of the Federal Constitution states that ‘all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law, with part (5)(c) expressly recognising there may very well be provisions for the protection, wellbeing or advancement of indigenous people’.
“Indigenous people have, throughout the years, sought recognition of their identities, their way of life and their right to traditional land, territories and natural resources, but their rights have continued to be violated,” it said.
The commission further said it had conducted its National Inquiry (NI) into the land rights of indigenous people in Malaysia from 2010 to 2012, with a series of public hearings in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak that examined the root causes of the land issues faced by the indigenous communities.
Following the inquiry, Suhakam said the government had established a special taskforce to study the findings and recommendations of the NI report, but in reality, it had yet to be executed by the government.
Given this, Suhakam said it would continue to follow up with the government’s intent of implementing the NI’s recommendations, as well as on policies required to bridge the gap and to create an environment where equal treatment and benefits would be provided so that indigenous communities would be more empowered in the near future.