Bar Council: Federal, state governments have too much power over Orang Asli

Orang Asli from the Batek tribe in Kampung Kuala Koh receive treatment at the Gua Musang Hospital June 15, 2019. — Bernama pic
Orang Asli from the Batek tribe in Kampung Kuala Koh receive treatment at the Gua Musang Hospital June 15, 2019. — Bernama pic

KUALA LUMPUR, June 27 — The Bar Council and NGO Pusat Komas called today for legal reforms to free the Orang Asli from excessive federal and state powers over their lands and even ethnicity.

They noted that under the Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954 (APA), the minister in charge of Orang Asli affairs had the power to redefine their ethnicity, while the Department of Orang Asli Development (Jakoa) director-general could control activities in aboriginal areas, Orang Asli land transactions, and compensation to the Orang Asli for loss of traditional lands.

State governments, on the other hand, were empowered under the APA to revoke aboriginal reserves and areas, to evict the Orang Asli from Malay or reserved lands, and to determine whether or not to grant adequate compensation to acquire or use Orang Asli lands.

The Bar Council and Pusat Komas said such state powers may violate the appellate court’s legal recognition of Orang Asli customary and resource rights.

“In this respect, many provisions in the APA confer extraordinary governmental power to control most, if not all, material aspects of Orang Asli lives for the sake of their protection.

“Such provisions are outmoded and, from a human rights perspective, have no place in contemporary Malaysia,” they said in a joint memorandum.

The Bar Council and Pusat Komas called for Jakoa to be changed from an administrative to a service agency.

“It is also proposed that the Ministry in charge of Orang Asli Affairs obtain approval from the Malaysian Cabinet to form a working group consisting of Government and relevant independent experts on the Orang Asli and community representatives to study, review and recommend specific amendments to the laws concerning Orang Asli as outlined above or other amendments as deemed fit.”

The Orang Asli fell into the public spotlight after 15 members of the Bateq tribe in Gua Musang, Kelantan, recently died, believed to be from a measles outbreak.

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