KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Bar has reiterated its call for the Perak government to suspend all logging activities in areas which may overlap with lands claimed by the orang asli in Kampung Tasik Cunex, Gerik.
Its president Abdul Fareed Abdul Gafoor (pic) said the Perak government should also investigate and survey the claimed lands jointly with the community.
He said Perak Chief Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu was misinformed when he justified the demolition of the blockade set up by the orang asli community on May 16 by claiming that the blockade was carried out on state land and the logging activities complied with the law.
Of particular concern to the Bar was his reasoning that "the government has yet to recognise the area as customary land as claimed by the villagers," Abdul Fareed said.
He said that Ahmad Faizal's statement was arguably misleading, as the Malaysian superior courts had recognised the common law rights of orang asli to lands that they have historically and traditionally occupied, inhabited or used for generations, without the need for a formal executive order "recognising" these rights.
"It raises serious questions about whether the Perak state government's action was reasonable in the circumstances and had taken into account the relevant consideration of whether the Kampung Tasek Cunex Gerik orang asli community may have acquired customary land rights at common law over the lands in question," he said in a statement on Saturday (May 25).
In expressing the Bar's disappointment with the state government's action, Abdul Fareed said such common law rights can exist in spite of the state's designation of an area as a reservation.
He said a state government is under a fiduciary duty to protect the orang asli lands concerned and the Perak state is no exception.
The Bar, however, welcomed the statement from the Department of Orang Asli Development (Jakoa) director-general Prof Dr Juli Edo, who defended the orang asli blockade.
Dr Juli said that the blockade "was not to oppose development planned by the state government", but to "defend their ancestral land, which has been passed down for millennia".
The Bar also welcomed the eight resolutions on orang asli customary lands adopted at the National Orang Asli Convention organised by the federal government in April.
Two of the resolutions are to recognise orang asli rights over their ancestral land and to guarantee and protect orang asli land, including gazetting the land and imposing a moratorium on any dispute pending the gazetting process.
"With a potential resolution of the protracted orang asli land issue in sight, it is troubling that the Perak state government continues to not consider the full spectrum of orang asli customary land rights as pronounced by the Malaysian courts and, perhaps more alarmingly, takes actions that run counter to the protection of remaining lands potentially subject to orang asli customary land rights," Abdul Fareed said.
The Bar also reiterates its call for the federal and state governments to impose, as an interim measure, a moratorium on the creation of any land and resource interests and the continuation of resource extraction and enforcement activities within places claimed to be orang asli customary areas, pending the resolution of the affected community's customary territorial claims.
It also calls for the governments to implement the 18 recommendations in the 2013 Suhakam Report of the National Inquiry into the Land Rights of the Indigenous Peoples in Malaysia, including taking legislative measures in consultation and cooperation with the orang asli to achieve the spirit and intent of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 2007.