Suhakam chairman Hasmy Agam said this would bolster parliamentary democracy in the country.
"Every policy or law being formulated in the interest of the country must not only comply with the provisions in the Federal Constitution but also universal principles and human basic rights norms," he said at the inaugural Basic Human Rights Award 2011 presentation ceremony.
"The voice of the people must be acknowledged and accorded priority, regardless of whether they are government or opposition supporters, when drafting policies and implementing certain programmes, particularly with regard to women, children, senior citizens and the Orang Asli in the peninsula and natives in Sabah and Sarawak," he stressed.
Suaram honoured with award
He said Malaysia should be a forerunner among Asean nations in upholding basic human rights.
"Malaysia is lagging far behind in the aspect of human rights compared to other countries like Indonesia although we are progressing fast economically," he said.
Meanwhile, the Special Award went to Integrity School (a school of six set up within a prison for juvenile offenders based in Kajang, Kluang, Marang, Sungai Petani, Kota Kinabalu and Kuching).
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) received the award in the Organisation Category and Tijah Yok Chopil of the Semai Orang Asli, in the Individual Category.
A ‘Young Maid for Sale’ report of ntv7's Mandarin version of ‘Edisi Siasat’ hosted by Kong Lik Hwan won in the Media Category.
- Bernama - Malaysiakini, 10/12/2011, M'sia 'lagging far behind' Indonesia on human rights
TIJAH Yok Chopil is one of the most important voices of the Orang Asli.
TIJAH still remembers her first day of school in 1976. The traumatic events that unfolded that day are etched in her memory. Her reflections of those events and subsequent experiences made her into what she is today.That day, the orang asli children of Kampung Chang in Perak were bussed out of their settlement to be schooled in a national school in Bidor town, some 30 minutes away.
“When we got down from the bus all the other kids looked at us like we were aliens. They were afraid of us and we were afraid of them. Then they jeered and teased us. We felt so ashamed,” recalls Tijah who was eight then and now is in her early 40s.
Subsequent negative experiences with people outside of her community made her ask why her people were so alienated in the country that ironically, recognised them as the “original people” or orang asli.
“I realised the answer is not to run and hide but to stand our ground, to unite to empower ourselves and to explain to the outside world who we are.”
With 18 diverse ethnic groups numbering 150,000, Tijah has the challenge of empowering and uniting the orang asli to speak in one voice. She started with the people closest to her – her family and community.
At 17, she started teaching her siblings and neighbours’ kids to read and write. Due to the many negative experiences in school, and having no money to buy food or books, many orang asli children dropped out of school. But through sheer effort and determination, Tijah managed to continue schooling despite having to help her mother farm and tap rubber to support her nine siblings when her father died when she was only 12.
As a result of her classes, which eventually included adults, almost no one in her village is illiterate today. Tijah also began to join discussions with orang asli leaders on the problems besetting the community. But she realised soon enough that the menfolk could not accept a young, vocal woman who speaks her mind.
“I found the men who claimed to be our leaders were not really engaging with the community or finding creative ways to solve our problems. So instead of waiting for them, I decided to start my own group. I decided to engage with the womenfolk and we called ourselves Kumpulan Ibu-Ibu Kampung Chang (Kampung Chang’s Women’s Group).
“After many years, the young people who had been my students and the womenfolk became my strong allies. They helped me organise the community when there are land incursions or when we need to voice our demands to the government.”
The men eventually joined the women in the village and together they changed the name of the group to Sinui Pai Nanuk Sngik (SPNS), which means New Life, One Heart in 1995. Through this organisation, they ran classes and workshops for the community on activities ranging from weaving baskets to paralegal training on land rights.
From those humble beginnings, the SPNS model spread to other villages. Over the years it became a network linking five states in Peninsular Malaysia and SPNS evolved to what is now known as the Village Network of Peninsular Malaysia Orang Asli. (Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Semenanjung Malaysia).
The Village Network has over the years become a powerful force in voicing for orang asli rights. Through their collective efforts, they managed to stave off several threats of land incursions into their native customary territories. Their latest struggle is to protest against the new land policy that was approved without consultation with the orang asli grassroots by the National Land Council last December.
The title of the policy – “Policy of Awarding Land Titles” – is in itself misleading and offensive to the orang asli, says Tijah. “It assumes that the orang asli have no land ... but we have been here from the beginning. All we need is the Government to recognise our customary land territories. We don’t need the Government to sympathise with us or to give us what we already have.”
Most of the orang asli were unaware of the Policy and Tijah took it upon herself to inform the community throughout Peninsular Malaysia. Together with the members of the Village Network, they went on a roadtrip to inform and gather the opinions of the grassroots.
“We found that all of us are very angry about the policy, and we wanted to express our feelings to the Government. So that’s where the protest came about. We managed to organise 3,000 people from all over the country to demonstrate at Putrajaya. This is the first time in Malaysian history that so many orang asli have come together in a show of strength to protest a government policy.”
The Village Network is facing its biggest challenge yet as penetration into orang asli territory is growing aggressive. – Wild Asia
BOTH Tijah Yok Chopil and the Persatuan Prihatin Konservasi, Kebudayaan, Sosial dan Kebajikan Lubok Bongor have been nominated as Wild Asia Heroes in recognition of their efforts to promote sustainable practices and empower local communities. Short films on the heroes will be screened on Oct 17 during the Eco Film Fest at Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur. For details, go to wildasia.org and ecoknights.com. - Star, 28/9/2010, A Semai woman overcomes all odds