Many challenges await new Suhakam Sarawak commissioner Dr Madeline Berma

Dr Madeline Berma

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By Peter Sibon

KUCHING, June 28: Human rights issues plaguing Sarawak, ranging from the rights of indigenous people, such as native customary rights (NRC), to the security of tenure through survey, are among the main challenges facing Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) Sarawak, said outgoing Suhakam Sarawak commissioner Francis Johen.

“NCR land matters is one of 18 recommendations of the Suhakam National Inquiry Report 2013 on land rights of indigenous peoples in Malaysia. There are still lots of work, especially in Sarawak and Sabah, to follow up on these recommendations, which were accepted by the government for implementation.


“Recommendation 18, on the setting up of a Commission on Indigenous Peoples, was not accepted by the government although Malaysia supported the adoption and passing of the UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in the past.

“Both state and federal governments have not yet fully implemented domestically, through changes in policy and law, all the main principles contained in UNDRIP, especially rights of indigenous people to their traditional lands, territories and resources.

“Also on their right to elect their traditional leaders to govern and represent their communities, etc,” Johen told DayakDaily today.

Francis Johen

He added that other human rights issues concern environmental and socio-economic matters, including the negative impacts of large-scale development projects such as oil palm plantations, forest plantations, hydroelectric dams such as Bakun, Murum and resettlement of affected peoples in Sungai Asap, Tegulang and Metalun settlements.

“Suhakam, through its awareness and advocacy programmes, research and study, is following up on these issues relating to UNDRIP. However, without a change in policy and law in Malaysia, indigenous people in the country cannot fully enforce their rights and enjoy it as spelt out in UNDRIP,” he highlighted.

Johen added that other current human rights issues in Sarawak include people’s needs, especially children, who have no Malaysian citizenship, birth certificates and Mykards due to various factors.

“There is also a lack of accessible public facilities for disabled persons, including in government buildings and schools,” he said.

On current issues, Johen congratulates Suhakam Sarawak’s new Commissioner, Dr Madeline Berma. She is the first Iban to assume such post.

“I have confidence that she will be able to adjust and to carry out her duties well as a Suhakam Commissioner, having regard to her academic qualifications, work experience and her involvement in research activities relating to rural economic development, women affairs and issues affecting indigenous peoples, including in Sabah and Sarawak,” he said.

Berma completed her doctorate at the University of Hull, England. She earned her MA majoring in  Public Policy and Administration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA. She received her Bachelor of Economics from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

When she was the director of the Tun Fatimah Hashim Women’s Leadership Centre of the National University of Malaysia (UKM), she was also appointed a member of the Women’s Advisory and Consultative Council (MPPW) under the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development in 2015.

Her expertise is in development studies and her research work focuses on rural development, indigenous economic development, and women in development. Madeline has done extensive research, delivered papers and published on economic development, focusing on rural development, poverty, indigenous communities and women.

She was a member of research teams conducting policy-impact studies on Poverty in Sarawak, Urban Poverty in Four Major Towns in Sarawak, Policies on Women in Johor, Dayak Education, Socialisation in Sarawak. She had been involved in consultancy jobs for the federal and state governments.

Berma was a member of the Malaysian government’s delegation to the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women (2015-2017), and Women and Economy Forum (2012) in Russia.

She also worked extensively with Government agencies and NGOs, particularly on economic empowerment programs. She had been a panellist on tv/radio (RTM, TV3, Astro Awani, NTV9, Bernama) panel discussions on economic and social issues.

The Government of Malaysia has appointed Madeline to 7 national-level consultative committees: (a) the National Unity and Consultative Committee (NUCC); (b) Women’s Advisory and Consultative Council; (c) Consultative Committee on Political Funding; (d) Committee to Promote Inter-Religious Harmony & Understanding, (e) Public Complaints Bureau, (f) National Heritage Council; and (g) Committee on Education Policy Review.

Besides Berma, Tan Sri Othman Hashim has been appointed as the new chairman along with another new commissioner, Dato Seri Mohd Hishamudin Md Yunus. Suhakam reappointed commissioners are Datuk Lok Yim Pheng, Dato Mah Weng Kwai, Datuk Godfrey Gregory Joitol, Prof. Madya Dr Nik Salida Suhaila Nik Salleh and Jerald Joseph.

Suhakam was established under the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999. It is headquartered in Kuala Lumpur and has a branch office in Kuching and Kota Kinabalu (each Branch Office is headed by a resident commissioner). Suhakam main functions are to protect, promote and monitor human rights in Malaysia. — DayakDaily