Orang Asli rights: Legal action against Kelantan government vindicates struggle

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The loss of Orang Asli land in Kelantan through aggressive logging and deforestation is an example of how human dignity is shredded. - Photograph: Bernama pic/Malay Mail

Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam Malaysia (Peka) welcomes the federal government’s legal action against the Kelantan state government to protect Orang Asli rights.

The legal action is the first meaningful step taken by the federal government to alleviate the plight of the Orang Asli communities in Malaysia.

Through its own admission, the federal government has acknowledged the suffering that this marginalised community has endured since Merdeka at the hands of an administration that sacrifices the wellbeing of its people and the environment for the sake of business interests and corporate gain.

More importantly, the federal government is setting a precedent by suing a state government for the first time in our country’s history. As such, it must pursue this legal action until the rights of the Orang Asli, their land and their way of life are fully protected. Any settlement by the state government that does not favour the Orang Asli and address the damage done to them and the environment should not be considered at all.

While the Orang Asli in Kelantan now have a glimmer of hope, many Orang Asli communities in other states are still under threat. The federal government should consider initiating legal action against these states as well, if it is truly serious in protecting the Orang Asli. Otherwise, many Malaysians will view this landmark action as just a publicity gimmick aimed at garnering the votes of a marginalised and neglected community.

The key to protecting the Orang Asli’s way of life and their rights is to protect the rainforests that they call home. We therefore call upon the federal government to halt all logging activities in Malaysia and to rehabilitate the country’s depleted rainforests.

READ MORE:  Support for Bar’s call for protection of Orang Asli land rights

We also urge the federal government to support citizens’ movements throughout Malaysia that try to protect the environment against encroachment in the name of development.

These movements include urban residents speaking out against buildings, highways and other infrastructure projects that devastate the local natural environment. These are issues of public interest – causes that the federal government should take up and champion. The present government must cast away the corrupt practices of the previous administration and be brave enough to fight for the rakyat against greedy business interests.

In any case, Peka views the government’s action as vindication of our struggle to aid the Orang Asli in Malaysia. We have long highlighted their plight and have done our best to create awareness of logging that threatens their way of life.

Together, the Orang Asli and their supporters have faced intimidation, threats, arrests and many other challenges. Now with the federal government’s support, perhaps they can finally take their place as fellow Malaysians with equal rights.

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