Indigenous peoples face forced removal, loss of income, UN told

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Suaram activists representating Aliran have told the UN that Malaysia’s indigenous peoples are being forcibly displaced by large extractive industries and the building of dams.

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The United Nations has been notified that the indigenous peoples of Malaysia are “facing forced displacement and loss of livelihood” due to large extractive industries that include the building of hydroelectric dams.

Suaram executive director Nalini Elumalai told the UN the human rights lobby was “particularly concerned by the situation on the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak”.

The report on the issues facing Malaysia’s indigenous peoples was tabled by Suaram activists representating Aliran who are attending the 24th regular session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva this week.

In a separate written statement tabled before the world body, Aliran and Suaram urged the Malaysian government “to end the violence and harassment against indigenous peoples defending their native customary land, and to ratify ILO Convention 169”.

Nalini also spoke at an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights, James Anaya.

The human rights groups said the Malaysian government should “allow Mr Anaya to conduct a mission to Malaysia as soon as possible”.

Malaysia told the hearing that it recognised “the challenges facing the indigenous communities” as the nation pursued “development and modernity”.

Malaysia said “indigenous peoples should be afforded with the choice of joining mainstream society”.

Malaysia is signatory to international conventions and declarations such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), but has still not ratified ILO Convention 169, a legally binding international instrument that deals specifically with the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples.

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Once a county ratifies ILO Convention 169, it has one year to align legislation, policies and programmes to the requirements in the multi-lateral pact before it becomes legally binding. Countries that have ratified the convention are subject to supervision of how the requirements are implemented.

Nalini commended Malaysia as a signatory to the UNDRIP, but urged the government to uphold the letter of the convention by enshrining “the rights of indigenous peoples to free, prior and informed consent, as declared under UNDRIP”.

Malaysia’s Human Rights Commission, Suhakam, told the UN hearing that “the adoption of a human rights based approach to development are key elements in ensuring that indigenous peoples’ rights are protected”.

In a strongly worded video message, Suhakam echoed the Aliran and Suaram’s stance to say it “strongly believes the recognition of indigenous customary right to land” must also be protected.

Anaya visited Kuala Lumpur earlier in the year to meet with representatives of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), which included a contingent of Malaysian indigenous peoples, to conduct research for a thematic report on extractive industries.

Suaram, Aliran and other Malaysian NGOs will continue to lobby the international community on Malaysian indigenous issues in the run up to Malaysia’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in October.

Suaram
20 September 2013

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