Theme: My Constitutional Rights as a Citizen of Malaysia
Venue: Longhouse Tanjung Tepalit, Ulu Baram, Miri, Sarawak
Date: April 25 – 27, 2014
The Awareness Seminar on Constitutional Rights, Consumer Rights, Democracy & Elections brought together 150 people from 15 different longhouses (communities) at a village in Long Tepalit, Ulu Baram. The journey took about 8 hours by 4WD cars from Bintulu and Miri.
Awareness Seminar on Rights at Kampung Tanjong Tepalit Ulu Baram, Miri, Sarawak
The longhouses from Sungai Baram
The Resource Persons were Michael M. Jok (Secretary General, SCRIPS), Francis Pereira (Association of Catholic Lawyers, KL), Nor Anak Nyawai (President, SCRIPS), Awang Ahmad Bin Ali (Coordinator for Southern Zone, SCRIPS), Michael Ding Tuah (Coordinator for Northern Zone, SCRIPS), Robinson Anyie Jau (SCRIPS member & religious leader) and Josie Fernandez (Special Representative, SCRIPS)
The topics covered were:
Formation of Malaysia.
Federal Constitution and my Rights as a citizen.
Freedom of religion
Democracy, Politics & Free Election.
Documentation of Community History & Community Mapping.
NCR Land Rights.
Sharing of Experiences by SCRIPS leaders.
In his opening speech on the evening of 25 April, James Nyurang, the Headman of Tanjung Tepalit, stated that SCRIPS had persisted with its request to hold this seminar for the communities at Ulu Baram at his Longhouse. Distance, communication difficulties and lack of funds were some of the challenges faced in realizing this seminar sooner. SCRIPS persistence succeeded in getting the dates and our commitment for this much needed seminar.
Headman James welcomes participants and resource persons on the first session of the seminar, evening of April 25 2014
Participants at Opening session
Ketua Kampung (KK) James highlighted the Awareness Seminar was a golden opportunity for the villagers of Ulu Baram especially the community of Tanjung Tepalit to become aware, to learn and understand about the rights of Indigenous People of Malaysia as guaranteed in the Federal Constitution. He said the speakers were experts in various fields.
He emphasized the awareness seminar on Rights of Indigenous people was much needed as the villagers have been battling against the construction of the Baram dam which would result in the loss of their ancestral lands, homes and the relocation of the whole village.
The community could well become extinct.
He apologized for the poor roads, for non-potable water and disruptions in electricity supply due to the generators (switched on limited time).
KK James thanked the speakers and SCRIPS for their efforts in being with the community despite the long journey through rough and risky logging roads, hot weather and absence of some basic amenities.
KK James informed the participants that all expenses for the seminar were borne by SCRIPS. He then thanked SCRIPS for this initiative.
Opening Remarks by SCRIPS.
Michael M. Jok, the Secretary General of SCRIPS, thanked KK James for making the Awareness Seminar happen despite the many difficulties. Michael met with KK James in Miri several times to plan and organize this seminar and ensure its success.
Michael emphasized the critical need for the Indigenous People (IPs) of Sarawak to understand and claim their rights which are being eroded rapidly . He encouraged the participants to participate actively and take the opportunity to engage with the speakers.
He thanked the donors mainly from peninsular Malaysia for their contributions for this awareness seminar.
Topic: The Right to Freedom of Religion
Speaker: Francis Pereira, Association of Catholic Lawyers Kuala Lumpur
The Right to Freedom of Religion is guaranteed in the Federal Constitution. However, court decisions on recent cases related to the choice and practice of religion are raising concerns on the freedom to practise the religion of one’s choice may be in jeopardy.
In peninsular Malaysia, religion has been highly politicized.
Recent events, such as the ‘snatching’ of Bibles by the Selangor State Islamic Department are seen as signs of erosion of freedom to practise one’s right to religion.
Decisions and Appeals
The High Court had made a thorough judgment for Christians to use Allah. However, the Government appealed against the decision.
The Appeal Court overthrew the decision of the High Court. The implications of the decision of the Appeal Court are wide and dangerous to exercise our freedom to practise the right to religion. The decision of any Court in Malaysia affects everyone in the country.
Francis highlighted the risks of such decisions included the erosion of the right to freedom of religion as guaranteed in the Federal Constitution.
Summary of the presentations at the seminar
Topic: The Malaysian Constitution and Rights
Speaker: Michael M Jok
He highlighted that for Sarawak 16 September when Malaysia was formed was significant and not Aug 31 when Malaya achieved independence from the British.
When the Federation of Malaysia was formed with terms and conditions, Sabah and Sarawak from individual independent nations became states of the Federation. This is not quite right in many sense of the word federation.
However, the terms and conditions agreed at the formation of Malaysia seem to be forgotten and are being manipulated by politicians.
Michael M Jok,Secretary General of SCRIPS
As such, it is critical for indigenous people to become aware of their rights and understand them.
Michael emphasized that the Constitution guarantees the special privileges accorded to the Indigenous People and not just for the Malays. This is found in Article 161 of the Federal Constitution.
Native Customary Rights
The state government defines Native Customary Rights (NCR) to land as any land cleared by Indigenous People before 1st Jan 1958 which can be proven by the aerial photographs taken between 1952 and 1957, and anything after that is considered state land requiring permits for Indigenous People to occupy such land.
However, there have been more than 10 judgements made by the Appeal Court which clearly recognizes the rights of Indigenous People to their NCR land which include the cleared land (temuda land), reserved forest (pulau galau) and territorial domain (pemakai menua). This fact is blatantly denied by the state government.
This means that we own our longhouse (kampung) territorial domain (pemakai menua) first and only then we own individual NCR land thorough farming and also the reserved forest for the use of the community.
This decision is based on the Adat or customs of the IPs in Sarawak since time immemorial. The customary laws of the IPs are now recognized by the Court through the principle of Common Law practice.
Documentation of community history and community mapping
Having realized the problems faced by many communities on the right to NCR land claims, SCRIPS is providing training on documentation of oral history and community mapping. This is an urgent need which must be addressed by the IP communities themselves throughout Sarawak.
Topic: Democracy, Politics and Freedom to Vote
Speaker : Awang Ahmad Bin Ali
Awang stated as a practicing Muslim, he respected the rights of Christians to use the word ‘Allah’ as there is no valid or legal reason to stop them from using it. This is their constitutional right as Christians in this country.
Awang Ahmad speaks on Rights and Democracy
He respected all places of worship and had and continues to give talks even in churches on issues related to Rights and democracy.
Awang drew attention to Malaysia’s practice of parliamentary democracy and that Malaysians have the right to vote and choose our leaders.
Awang emphasized that all those who are qualified to vote must exercise this right to choose leaders of integrity. Choosing wrong leaders or wrong party may result in the loss of our rights such as the NCR to land.
Awang pointed out there had been allegations of corruption, money politics and vote buying which can undermine the choice of leaders who will protect our rights.
Topic : My Struggle for my Land
Speaker: Nor AK Nyawai
SCRIPS President, Nor Ak Nyawai shared his struggle in claiming back his NCR land through the courts many years ago. His NCR court case now becomes the precedent case for all NCR cases in Commonwealth countries who practice theCommon law system. It was not an easy move but then it had to be done for the sake of the future generations, he emphasized.
A meal together
Robinson emphasizes the importance of values, integrity and ethics in daily lives. He encouraged participants to be actively involved in the activities of SCRIPS
Topic: Consumer Rights
Speaker: Josie M Fernandez
Josie drew attention to the importance of the Freedom of Information Act to enable communities to have access to information on historical documents for NCR cases, propose changes to laws and policies. As consumers , information on all aspects of consumption such as products, goods and services was important to avoid risks from what one consumes or uses.
Developed countries where citizens enjoyed a high quality of life had enacted Freedom of Information Act for years such as Sweden in 1786. Access to information is a tool against corruption.
Josie highlighted the eight consumer rights recognized by the Malaysian government and said as consumers Indigenous People must exercise their consumer rights.
For example, access to healthcare is a right that rural communities must advocate for as many rural areas lacked hospitals etc.
Further, Josie said all need to practice healthy lifestyles as Indigenous People in several countries were weakened due to unhealthy food consumption, alcohol, cigarettes, gambling etc..
KK James, the Headman said he was very contented with the two days Awareness Seminar on Rights. He proposed that this kind of seminar should be carried out very often not only in the Ulu (interior) but also in the towns as many IPs are now living in the towns/cities.
Personally, he is very happy as he learned about so many new issues during the seminar. He thanked SCRIPS for organizing the much needed seminar.
Loss of NCR to land results in loss of resources….
Long Tepalit Waterfall