NGO tells JPN to dump its ‘one-size-fits-all’ policy to resolve statelessness in Sarawak

Peter John Jaban

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KUCHING, August 15: Some native families in Sarawak have identity cards (ICs) sporting colours similar to traffic lights — some are blue, some red and some green. To top it off, the holders all have the same parents!

Solidariti Anak Sarawak founder Peter John Jaban claimed he had personally encountered such bizarre cases, and it also mirrors the statelessness situation in Sarawak — a mess.

Peter said the National Registration Department (JPN) needs to overhaul its policies in the state in order to recognise the statelessness of many natives. He also called for “strong political will” to engage with the natives and bring them into the decision-making process.

“Let us solve this issue of statelessness once and for all for all genuine Malaysians. It’s about time JPN Sarawak have complete autonomy to recognise the local ‘adat’ and resolve issues with identity documents.

“Rules set in Putrajaya, which have no understanding of Sarawak’s issues or the ‘adat’, cannot be allowed to continue as it has resulted in the denial of Sarawak natives’ nationality, healthcare, education and even their rights to be cared for equally by both parents,” said Peter in a statement here today.

Peter, a human rights activist and a central executive council member of Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (Sadia) has been campaigning to assist the Orang Asal in Sarawak to obtain their identity cards (ICs) and documentation since 2015.

He said the distinct social, cultural and historical backgrounds of Sarawak meant the current ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution used by Putrajaya was flawed.

“There must be a process of engagement with these marginalised communities so that a tailored solution can be developed,” he opined.

He applauded Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s move to recognise 3,407 Indians in the country as Malaysians. Peter hoped Dr Mahathir would likewise deal with the issue of stateless natives in Sarawak in the same way.

“The solution cannot be on a case-by-case basis. It must involve a proper process of engagement with a variety of stakeholders, from civil society, from the communities themselves and from the various government agencies both in Sarawak and the peninsula. Only then can a workable solution be developed,” he stressed.

Peter reiterated it was time the country help stateless natives in Sarawak after 55 years of independence. It must take into account the ‘adat’, which forms part of the body of law in Sarawak, and also the specific and serious challenges that the indigenous people of Sabah and Sarawak face.

“How are they proposing to identify stateless individuals who live in far-flung communities with limited road access? How are they planning to tackle issues of illiteracy caused by years of educational neglect? How are they proposing to solve the problems of individuals whom JPN have issued with incorrect documentation after years of confusion as to how to deal with these candidates? How will they tackle individuals with no documentation whatsoever?” he asked. — DayakDaily