Letter to the editor: Protection of the rights of the underprivileged must continue
THE shocking display of vitriol against Datuk Seri Mohd Nizar Jamaluddin of Perak by certain groups claiming to advance patriotism in Perak is a disconcerting trend.
In a modern and robust democracy such as we claim to be, threats against those who hold different views, seek to enforce their legal rights, or seek to challenge authority in a court of law are seriously misplaced. We cannot, on the one hand, claim to be a modern democracy that respects dissenting views, and on the other, ask for archaic modes of "punishment" (like chasing someone out of the state) for holding those views.
It is also necessary to remember that under Nizar's administration in Perak, many significant steps forward were taken on issues that affect the Orang Asli and other underprivileged and marginalised groups.
I write this piece to put on record what I believe to be the most significant events from a human rights perspective: events that members of the Malaysian Bar and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were pleased to be part of. Issues that had remained outstanding for many years saw quick resolution in the last 10 months in Perak under Nizar's administration.
They include the following:
- As menteri besar, Nizar cancelled all logging and plantation activities in Orang Asli settlements around Gopeng that affected more than 2,000 Orang Asli.
- State exco and assemblyperson A Sivanesan announced the return of approximately 400 acres of Orang Asli ancestral land to the Orang Asli that had been earmarked for logging activities by the previous government in Mukim Teja near Gopeng.
- The state government announced the return of approximately 500 acres of Orang Asli ancestral land to the Orang Asli of Kampung Chang, Sungai Gepai in Bidor, which had been earmarked for a Botanical Garden by the previous government.
- A special task force on Orang Asli land rights was set up to formally recognise all Orang Asli customary land in Perak. The task force committee comprised two tiers. The second tier was exclusively managed by the Orang Asli communities themselves, and meeting halls in the state secretariat building were provided to the Orang Asli for their use.
- The administration commissioned a special Orang Asli officer for the state of Perak whose function was to resolve all problems of the Orang Asli within the state.
- A series of consultations with the public and NGOs on development activities in Ipoh was held. For example, public opinion was sought in relation to the proposed development of Yau Tet Shin Market.
- Both Malay and Chinese [Malaysian] residents of new villages and Kampung Tersusun are now being granted permanent land titles in stages.
The Malaysian Bar must put these events on record as we have worked for years on some of these issues and were happy to see positive results achieved in a short span of time.
We hope that the same importance will be given to these matters and that they will continue to progress without delay. In fact, we call on all state governments to be proactive in relation to issues that concern the Orang Asli, the marginalised and the underprivileged.Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan
11 February 2009