Sadia highlights native human rights, poverty issues to UN special rapporteur

Alston during an engagement with civil society groups.

By Geryl Ogilvy

KUCHING, Aug 15: Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (Sadia) has submitted a memorandum highlighting the extreme poverty and human rights issue of the state’s indigenous people to the United Nations (UN) special rapporteur.

The memorandum urged the UN rapporteur to recommend to the United Nations Human Rights Council to put pressure on Malaysia to legislate Article 26 (3) of the UNDRIP (Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) — to recognise the rights of indigenous peoples in Malaysia especially land rights.

According to Sadia president Sidi Munan, the memorandum touched on major factors contributing to poverty of the indigenous groups in Sarawak, particularly the Ibans.

“Most of the Iban population in Sarawak are living in communal longhouses and many of these settlements are isolated from one another, along the banks of major rivers and deep jungle of Borneo

“The inhabitants of these longhouses are inaccessible to basic medical and health services, treated water supply and electricity. They are also being deprived of modern facilities such as good roads and telecommunication, except radio,” he told DayakDaily.

Sadia representatives met with the “UN special rapporteur for extreme poverty and human rights” led by Prof Philip Alston, here, today.

Sidi (left) having a discussion with Alston when visiting “pendam Gena” (Iban cemetery) at Jalan Chawan.

Touching on agriculture, Sidi said most of the rural Iban community are shifting rice cultivators/swidden farmers, though some have been planting marketable produce such as pepper, rubber and oil palms on a permanent basis.

However, as population expanded, arable land for farming has become scarcer by the day, he added.

“Cases of concessions (plantation and logging companies) encroaching upon traditional lands known as the ‘pemakai menoa’ (territorial domain) and ‘pulau galau’ (communal forest reserve) thereby deprived the occupants of timber sources for their houses and boats, as well as sources of food from the forest and the rivers.

“Chemical fertilisers runoffs from oil palm plantations pollute those rivers and streams and kill the fish,” he continued.

Sidi pointed out that as many longhouses were built of soft wood and are old, they get burnt down frequently and cases are regular. As a result, victims ended up living on charity of others.

On education matter, he said that there is a high illiteracy among the older folks. While primary and secondary school education are available to children, preschool is out of reach for many.

Sidi opined that university graduates of various professions among the Iban was still small in number and majority of the people lack modern skills and thus, not easily employable.

The memorandum also touched on loss of basic rights to lands, together with natural resources, which will continue to compound poverty of the Iban further, he added.

“There are two systems of law in operation in Sarawak — the statute law and the customary law.

“The use of the English common law without having regard to native custom has technically dispossessed the Ibans of their traditional territorial domain (pemakai menoa and pulau galau) and the natural resources found in them.

“These resources are the main sources of food and household needs,” he said.

Sidi believed that loss of basic human rights is contrary to the spirit and intent of the UNDRIP 2007, especially the provisions of Articles 25 and 26 thereof.

The State Government’s amendment to the Land Code in 2018 to prevent further losses of native rights to land was only gazetted on Aug 1, 2019. However, the law is yet to be tested/interpreted by a court of law, he said.

Sidi added that Sadia has been carrying out socio-economic survey on the Indigenous group in Sarawak. Findings will also be submitted to the UN rapporteur once completed.

Meanwhile, Alston and his team, comprising senior advisor Rebecca Riddell, Bassam Khawaja and Juana Sotomajor, visited the state to carry out assessment on poverty.

Alston (standing second left) giving some words of encouragement to the squatters at “pendam Gena”.

The team attended a briefing by state officials at the Wisma Bapa Malaysia and held an engagement with civil society groups.

Sadia also led the UN team to visit the Iban cemetery at Jalan Chawan and a settlement in Tapah. — DayakDaily