By Thomas Jalong, JOAS

Sarawak natives not 'squatters on state land'

Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS) strongly supports the demand made by the Sarawak Dayak National Union (SDNU) and its women's wing, Sarakup Indu Dayak Sarawak (SIDS), to those persons who had uttered remarks in the Global Witness video entitled ‘Inside Malaysia’s Shadow State’ that the indigenous Dayak communities in Sarawak are squatters living on state land.

As a national indigenous organisation which advocates for the promotion and protection of Indigenous Peoples’ rights in Malaysia and at the international level, JOAS is shocked and puzzled to hear such derogatory remarks towards the indigenous Dayak communities status and rights to their lands.

JOAS also shares the concerns expressed by the various Sarawak-based indigenous organisations such as SDNU, SIDS, Dayak Chamber of Commerce (DCCI) and Sarawak Dayak Graduates’ Association (SGDA), which are published in a local English daily regarding the remarks made in the said video clip, that the natives can be easily exploited and manipulated as tools to circumvent the requirement of the law.

JOAS views such remarks as insinuating and deplorable and shows total disrespect to the indigenous Dayak communities as citizens of this country and that our  customary rights  to our lands, territories and resources are not given due protection by law.

At the same time, given the seriousness of the remarks and allegations made in the said video regarding the manner the lands are given out to plantation companies in Sarawak, which results in the exploitation, abuse and marginalisation of the indigenous Dayak communities and violations of their basic and inaalienable rights to their lands, territories and resources, JOAS also calls on the relevant authorities to immediately investigate and take appropriate actions against those responsible.

JOAS insists that truth must prevail in regard to the allegations in view of the huge number of existing land disputes and conflicts between the indigenous communities and some plantation companies throughout the state.

The organisation laments that native customary lands and territories have been and are still farmed out not only to plantation companies but become targets for other mega projects including hydro electric projects which forcibly and unjustly dispossess and displace  the indigenous communities from their traditional lands and very source of sustenance.

JOAS also calls upon the federal and state governments to honour and enforce the provisions in the federal constitution and state statutory laws which recognise the rights of indigenous communities to their lands, territories and resources.

JOAS strongly points out that the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands, territories and resources are enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) which Malaysia has endorsed not once, but twice (30 June 2007 and 13 September 2007) through the party-driven and intergovernmental negotiation process.

Taking into consideration the collective character and unique circumstances of indigenous peoples, UNDRIP articulates key international human rights obligations interalia the Charter of the United Nations, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.

As such, JOAS argues that indigenous peoples cannot be labeled as “squatters” because they have the right to their lands, territories and resources; the very rights contained in a document signed by the government of Malaysia.

JOAS takes the remarks uttered in the video as an insult to all indigenous peoples and in its very nature a verbal violation to their rights.


THOMAS JALONG is president of Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS).