JOAS Youth Leader speaks at ASEAN Peoples Forum

Published: 23 April 2015

Mia Yusri, the Deputy Chairman of the Belia-JOAS gave the welcoming speech on behalf of the Orang Asal of Malaysia at the ongoing ASEAN Peoples Forum being held in Kuala Lumpur from 21-24 April 2015. About 1,000 civil society members, including many indigenous peoples from the region are attending the forum.

Sitting on the panel with much more experienced and well-known speakers – Professor Johan Savarimuthu and BERSIH leader Dato Ambiga – first-timer Mia kept her cool and delivered her prepared speech in confident English.

In her speech (see below), Mia not only focussed on the situation in Malaysia, but extended her Orang Asli experience to that of the indigenous peoples in the region, and called on ASEAN to truly realize its vision of a people-centered community.

COAC | 23 April 2015



Full text of the speech:


Mende khabar yon?! How are you? My name is Sabariah. My community and my friends and family know me as Mia. Like many of the two hundred thousand Orang Asli in Peninsular Malaysia, I grew up in my own community in Sungai Mai, in the interior of Pahang. My parents brought me up to be a proud Jahut, and to have a close attachment to our customary land.


At that time I only knew it was a beautiful land with green hills, clean rivers and lots of plants and animals, that we needed and used. But now I realize, that it is this land, which is what makes me a Jahut. It is the source of our livelihood, and our identity. It is our home-land. My Orang Asli brothers and sisters, tell me they feel the same way.


But now these very lands are the targets of other people. They want the timber on the land without a care to what happens, to the wildlife and the rivers. They want the minerals in the land without a care to what happens to the environment. And, worst still, they want the land itself as if the land is without owners, and without a heartbeat.


Although we are called the Orang Asli or Original People, we feel like we are outsiders in our own land. We are subject to outside laws. We are also subjected to outside polices. And we frequently have to face outsiders, who come to take our land, or steal our resources. Like my people, the other Orang Asal groups in Malaysia are experiencing the same situation. Basically our lands, our cultures, and our identity, are not given the due recognition that we, as the indigenous peoples of Malaysia, should get.


I know that this is also the situation, of my indigenous brothers and sisters, in the other Asean countries. Our cultures and our languages may be different. Our living environments may also be different. But I can say that we are united in many ways. We each have our own customary, or ancestral lands, which we hold very dear to our heart. And we want to ensure, that they remain in our hands.


We are among the most marginalized sectors, in our own countries. And it is always a struggle to get others to see that our culture, and our unique identities, are worth protecting and defending. It is now our turn to be responsible, in making sure, that our children can inherit this gift, so that they too, can pass it on to their children. Indigenous peoples today, therefore, including our youth and our women, need to be assured, that they can remain as Indigenous peoples.


World opinion, has generally been on our side, for some time now. UNESCO has recognized, that the bio-cultural diversity, of our environments, are sustained today, only because we, indigenous peoples, play an important role as stewards of the environment, and as keepers of the heritage we inherit. Today, almost all the countries in the world have endorsed the UNDRIP, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Although it is a non‐binding document, it makes our government morally responsible to establish standards for the recognition and protection of Indigenous peoples’ rights.


In September last year, the UN organized the high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. In its Outcome Document, governments committed themselves to make changes at the national level. They are to make legislative changes, policy changes and also take administrative measures to achieve the ends of the UNDRIP.


The political and economic leaders of Asean want to build an ASEAN community by this year. For us indigenous peoples, we know the meaning of community, and what it takes, to be a member of one. In fact, a major human right element, in the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Blueprint, is the improvement, of “the well-being and livelihood, of the peoples of ASEAN, by providing them, with equitable access, to human development opportunities. This is to be done, by promoting, and investing in, education and lifelong learning, human resource training and capacity building…"


Although governments in ASEAN have put aside big budgets for the advancement of indigenous peoples in their countries, we are, however, often treated like a charity case. We need to move away from seeing indigenous peoples as poor and marginalized. Otherwise, indigenous peoples will forever be the receivers of state hand-outs and charity. In the context of indigenous peoples, it is clear that for the ASEAN community concept to work for indigenous peoples, two important basic concepts must be accepted in all dealings with our peoples and our territories. This is the right to Self-Determination and the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent, FPIC.


If the goal is to recognize the rights of indigenous peoples in Asean, then we must strengthen our indigenous movement and make every person in civil society and the government understand that all our concerns, all our aspirations, and all our demands, can be addressed if we adopt and follow the two main principles in the UNDRIP. This, again, is the Right to Self-determination, and the Right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent.


In this regard, I should say, that we must also involve Indigenous Women and Youth in the decision-making process because their perspectives matter, and should be taken into account.


All things said, it is evident that ASEAN should put people first in all its dealings and planning. Only then, will our resources be used fairly. Only then, will our environment be sustainable. Only then, will the climate nurture us, and protect us.


We urge ASEAN states to stop slacking, and to start acting. For a start, introduce laws and policies that are inclusive of the rights of the Indigenous Peoples. Only when ASEAN puts people – that is, ordinary people, indigenous peoples – as the focus of its policies and programmes will ASEAN truly become a community. Only then will ASEAN achieve its goal of a ‘People-Centered ASEAN’.


On behalf of the Orang Asal of Malaysia, I welcome you to our land. If you have a chance please visit our exhibition booth and be sure to share in the betel nut and sirih as a symbol of our solidarity and in keeping with our culture. I wish you a pleasant stay in Malaysia. And may your discussions be fruitful and productive, for all peoples in ASEAN. Thank you.