The survival of the indigenous people in the rainforests of Sarawak, collectively known as the Dayak, is of grave concern to the European Union (EU).
The head of the European Union delegation to Malaysia, Luc Vandebon, said yesterday the Dayak have suffered irreversible impacts due to large scale development, including the loss of their food diversity, sources of basic needs such as clothing and medicine and sources of their livelihood.
“Ultimately all these will affect the very survival and culture of the Dayak, who form about 60 percent of Sarawak’s 2.2 million,” Vandebon said at a forum organised by Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (Sadia) at a hotel in Kuching.
Twelve EU ambassadors were in Kuching on a fact-finding mission and at the forum they heard the grouses, abuses of human rights and plight of the indigenous people as a result of large scale development, such as the mega dams and logging activities.
Vandebon said Sadia has documented more than 300 cases of violation of native customary rights and some of these rights have been taken to court.
“In this regard the EU hopes that some of the cases that have been solved in favour of the natives by the court should be fully implemented,” he said.
Congratulating Malaysia as a member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), Vandebon expressed hope that as a member of the UNSC, Malaysia should protect the human rights of the people, and support the work of the United Nations and its conventions.
“Malaysia should not practise discrimination of any kind,” he warned.
'Act according to UN declarations...'
He said that as a close friend, the EU wants Malaysia to act according to the UN declarations on the rights of the indigenous people, particularly on legal access to their land, the provision of basic healthcare and proper education to these people.
The EU also wants the Malaysian government to continue engaging with the indigenous people.
Vandebon (left) pointed out that indigenous people all over the world face serious problems, a series of violence and brutality, continuing with the assimilation policy, dispossessing them of their land, marginalisation, denial of their land rights and a host of other abuses.
In many cases, the indigenous people have lost control of the situation affecting them and therefore they are especially in a vulnerable position.
“The EU considers that racial and ethnic discrimination is incompatible with the basic principles of the EU and therefore the indigenous issues are an integral part of the EU human rights policy,” he said.
Earlier in welcoming the delegation, Sadia president Sidi Munan told them that the indigenous people of Sarawak belong to the ‘endangered species’ as there is no legislation to protect them.
Sidi said crocodiles in the state fared better than the Dayaks as the crocodiles were protected by the Wildlife Act 1989.
The Orang Utan were protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora, which is also known as Washington Convention.
“Where is the legislation to protect the Dayaks? Therefore, the Dayaks are real endangered species,” Munan said.