Federal govt sues Kelantan to protect orang asli land rights

PETALING JAYA: The federal government has filed a civil suit against the Kelantan state government to seek the legal recognition of the native land rights of the Temiar orang asli in Pos Simpor.

Attorney General Tommy Thomas said for the first time since Merdeka, the federal government is instituting legal proceedings on behalf of the orang asli in recognition of its constitutional and legal duty to protect and promote the well-being and advancement of the orang asli.

“Having researched the law, this Chambers has filed a civil suit in the High Court at Kota Baru for the federal government of Malaysia,” he said in a statement on Friday (Jan 18).

“The defendants are the state government of Kelantan, the Kelantan state director of Lands and Mines, the Kelantan state director of the Forestry Department, and five private entities, seeking, inter alia, the legal recognition of the Temiar orang asli’s native land rights in Pos Simpor, and injunctions to restrain private parties from encroaching upon and destroying the native land for commercial profits,” he added.

Thomas said the beneficiaries of this suit were the orang asli and the litigation would be cost-free to them.

“Although the Kelantan state government has jurisdiction over matters relating to land, forestry and mining, it is also bound by a paramount and non-delegable duty to protect and preserve the welfare of the Temiar orang asli,” he said.

Thomas said commercial development and the pursuit of profit must not come at the expense of the Temiar orang asli and their inherent right as citizens of the country, to the land and resources which they had traditionally owned and used.

“The orang asli have a rich and ancient history. Since time immemorial, they have lived a peaceful and sustainable existence in the forests of Malaya,” he said.

He added that the orang asli had a deep connection with their ancestral land, which they rely heavily upon for economic and cultural sustenance.

Unfortunately, Thomas said the fundamental rights of the orang asli, as Malaysian citizens, had been neglected and infringed for far too long.

"Rapid deforestation and commercial development have resulted in widespread encroachment into the native territories of the orang asli. In most instances, they are not consulted or even considered.

They are seldom given fair compensation.

"Moved by their plight, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet resolved that legal proceedings be considered to reflect the federal government’s commitment to the orang asli. Additionally, this is honouring a promise in its manifesto," he said.

Thomas said across the globe, the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples had been recognised, declared and enforced in landmark court cases.
“It is time that Malaysia joins the rank of nations recognising and protecting the rights of our orang asli,” he added.

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