KOTA KINABALU: Malaysian laws on indigenous people should be audited to check if they are in line with requirements under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Undrip).
Chief Justice of Malaysia Tan Sri Richard Malanjum (pic) said for Malaysia, there was no clear indication on whether laws on native rights truly protect the indigenous people.
“So, I think it would be right to have an audit conducted, so that we will know whether these laws really benefit the indigenous groups, or natives, or aboriginal,” he said during the Borneo Rainforest Law Conference here on Thursday (Jan 17).
For the context of Sabah, Malanjum said the term "natives" should be changed to "indigenous", adding that the former gives the perception they are backward and uncivilised, when in fact, they are not.
Malanjum said the indigenous people in Sabah were losing out in many aspects, legally, in terms of development.
He said in terms of legal matters, those presiding over native courts consist of those who are not natives themselves, or do not know the laws.
“Civil laws are applied to native issues and it is not fair for the natives,” he said, adding that lawyers should be more proactive in providing 'pro-bono' public litigation for them.
“And also in the villages, when they dispute over something, they will go to court, where one will win and the other lose,” Malanjum said.
He added that in cases like these, it was preferable to have matters settled via mediation, because it results in a win-win situation.
He said in a court ruling, where one wins and the other loses, this would prolong the fight.
As for why the indigenous are dubbed the most vulnerable and easily exploited group of people, he said it was because they are poor, lack development and self-improvement opportunities due to limited education and poor leadership.
“When they are poor, they can be easily persuaded to sell off lands, resulting in even lesser means to make a living,” Malanjum said.
He said the indigenous, which live in the remote areas of the country, do not even get to enjoy basic amenities such as water and electricity.
“So, how do you expect them to improve themselves if nothing is provided? They are already poor and without basic facilities, what ways can they have a better life?” he asked.
He said we should be helping them get out of their predicament but instead, the powerful, mega companies and even local leaders, are the ones pushing them deeper into "hell".
Meanwhile, Sabah Law and Native Affairs assistant minister Jannie Lasimbang said while she agrees on the need to change people’s perception, she does not fully agree that the term "natives" needs to be changed.
“What we need is proper education and awareness on these people, the issues revolving around them and to open up the minds of the community at large to have a better understanding of them,” she added.