Suhakam denounces demolition of orang asli blockades in Gua Musang

Kelantan Forestry Department officers dismantling the blockade at Matau Cawas near Pos Bihai.

Kelantan Forestry Department officers dismantling the blockade at Matau Cawas near Pos Bihai.

PETALING JAYA: The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) has condemned the Kelantan Forestry Department's demolition of the orang asli blockades in Gua Musang, Kelantan.

In a statement Tuesday, Suhakam expressed dismay that the blockades set up by the orang asli in the Balah forest reserve to protest against logging had been dismantled by the department in an operation that started on Monday.

“Suhakam is deeply concerned that this marginalised and vulnerable community who are among Malaysia’s poorest minority have been targets of long-standing discrimination, exclusion and more recently, violence.

“These blockades are a symbol of protest by them, opposing unrestrained commercialisation of the forests, which violates the many established principles on business and human rights, such as the duty of the state to protect, and duty of businesses to respect the human rights of the orang asli,” it said.

Suhakam referred to the national inquiry it conducted in 2013, which found that the orang asli “face substantial, discriminatory and unbearable obstacles to the exercise and enjoyment of their rights to own, possess and control their lands”.

It added that a national task force committee had accepted 17 of the 18 recommendations made by Suhakam back then and called on the Government to take steps to implement them.

On Tuesday, the department dismantled the orang asli blockade at Matau Cawas, near Pos Bihai, detaining 16 orang asli and arresting two freelance journalists.

The 16 detainees were released later.

A day earlier, enforcement officers tore down the blockade at Simpang Petei and detained orang asli, who were later released on police bail.

The blockades - sites of confrontation between the orang asli, the state government and the loggers - had been set up to prevent loggers from gaining access to the interior forests, which the orang asli claim as their customary land.

The blockades were taken down in November last year by the department and dozens of orang asli were arrested although they were later released.

Nevertheless, the orang asli rebuilt the blockades soon after.

Gua Musang , Orang Asli , Malaysia