State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - Malaysia
|Publisher||Minority Rights Group International|
|Publication Date||16 July 2009|
|Cite as||Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - Malaysia, 16 July 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a66d9aec.html [accessed 19 June 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
In March 2008 Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's National Front coalition suffered its worst election result in decades, losing its two-thirds parliamentary majority and control of five state assemblies. It is widely believed that Badawi's downfall was precipitated by huge ethnic minority protest marches and that the opposition hence won votes by promising racial equality. However, although his replacement, Razak, says he will do more to address the grievances of minorities, rights groups remain sceptical.
Minority ethnic Indians, who are among the nation's poorest people, continued to speak out in 2008 against the government's decades-old affirmative action policy that favours majority ethnic Malay Muslims in education, jobs and business. Indians continue to face poverty and relatively low levels of education as compared to ethnic Chinese, without being able to benefit from any of the affirmative action programmes restricted to Bumiputeras (ethnic Malays and indigenous groups).
Indians have also expressed disquiet at the government's language policies, such as the exclusive use of Malay, which creates a tangible barrier for employment in the civil service, and the refusal to allow Tamil to be used as a language of service, as well as the continuing refusal to teach in Tamil in public schools and universities. Education in Tamil usually occurs in private schools which are still not fully funded by the Malaysian government. There are currently about 1,200 Chinese primary schools and 500 Tamil primary schools in the country.
Throughout the year five Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) leaders remained in detention under Malaysia's Internal Security Act, despite repeated applications for their release and pressure from international rights organizations. HINDRAF'S registration was refused in October and the organization was thus declared illegal.
Islam is Malaysia's official state religion, but the Constitution protects freedom of religion for all. Sharia courts have jurisdiction over religious issues involving Muslims, and secular courts rule on other issues, often resulting in tensions over whether Malaysia is a secular or religious state. The government's Islamic Development Department website identified 56 'deviant' religious teachings it prohibited during 2008, which include Ahmadi, Ismaili, Shia and Baha'i teachings.
In May, the long-awaited judgment in the case of Lina Joy, a Muslim convert to Christianity, added to frustration among the non-Muslim population. The final ruling effectively barred Muslims from converting to other faiths.
Pre-school education in rural and semi-rural areas in Malaysia is within the jurisdiction of the Rural Development Ministry, however children from minorities whose first language is not Malay have little access to these public schools as they cater mainly for ethnic Malay children, according to COMANGO, a coalition of Malaysian NGOs, in a 2008 report to the UN Human Rights Council. The report also notes with concern that the state obliges teachers to possess a higher secondary school certification on the subject of Islam, which discriminates against some pre-school teachers.
Refugee and asylum seeking children, including those from Burma's Rohingya and Chin communities, also do not fare well under Malaysia's education system. They continue to be barred from government schools, despite previous recommendations by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Public schools in Malaysia generally offer Islamic religious instruction, which is compulsory for Muslim children, and non-Muslim students are required to take non-religious morals/ethics courses. Private schools are free to offer a non-Islamic religious curriculum as an option for non-Muslims.
The Orang Asli, or indigenous peoples, consist of more than 80 ethno-linguistic groups, each with its own culture, language and territory. Collectively, Malaysia's 4 million indigenous peoples are among the poorest and most marginalized. A 2008 report to the UN Human Rights Council called for respect for indigenous peoples' customary land rights and a review of existing legislation; and the Bar Council of Malaysia accused the government of clearing ancestral land occupied or utilized by indigenous people for activities such as logging or palm cultivation, while only offering to pay compensation for loss of agricultural products. The Asian Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Network reports that in February 2008, a memorandum containing land claims from 32,352 indigenous peoples over a collective area of 339,984 acres from 18 districts in Sabah, was submitted to the government.
The Penan, a nomadic indigenous people who rely on Sarawak's rainforests for their survival, have spent more than 20 years trying to stop logging companies destroying their land. In January 2008 the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders, raised concerns with the Malaysian government on the 2007 death of a Penan leader involved in anti-logging campaigns in the Upper Baram region. Survival International reported continued harassment during 2008; in September Penan women accused loggers working for the Malaysian companies Samling and Interhill of harassing and raping them; and the government of Sarawak announced that it would no longer recognize elected leaders in some Penan communities. In an attempt to save what remains of the forest, villagers in the Middle Baram area set up a new anti-logging blockade in October.
In October 2008 indigenous forest dwellers in Sarawak rejected a proposal to turn 80,000 hectares of their land into an oil palm plantation.
In November 2008 there were reports of plans for an oceanarium resort near the Sipadan diving spot off Malaysian Borneo that could spell disaster for the region's delicate coral reefs, according to environmentalists. The plan came under attack from the minority Bajau community (also known as 'sea gypsies', numbering some 450,000), who depend on the area's fragile ecosystem for their livelihoods.
In late 2007, the government of Malaysia decided to resume the controversial Bakun hydroelectric project in Sarawak. The dam has already destroyed 23,000 hectares of virgin rainforest and displaced 9,000 indigenous people.