KUCHING, Sept 20 — Human rights activist Peter John Jaban today questioned the need for children born to mixed marriages where one parent is a Sarawakian native to apply for native status as required by the Interpretation (Amendment) Ordinance 2022.
He said while he appreciates the overall direction of the legislation, he is among many Sarawakians who believe that this requirement will become an unnecessary obstacle in the recognition of the native status and the provision of native land titles.
“With one native parent, these children are native by birth and the various agencies should be recognising this automatically,” he said when responding to a press statement by Deputy Minister in the Premier’s Department (Law, Malaysia Agreeement 1963 and State-Federal Relations) Datuk Sharifah Hasidah Sayeed Aman Ghazali.
Jaban, who is the deputy president of the Global Human Rights Federation, Malaysia, said for years, children of mixed marriages and their native parents have been put in an “insulting” position of justifying their place in their own community to a panel of the so-called experts.
“I have heard stories of natives, raised in their ancestral villages, being tested on their language skills and on their knowledge of the customs if they are worthy to be recognised as natives,” he said, hoping that this “testing” exercise would come to an end.
He said the requirement could prove to be problematic in many ways, such as the RM100 fee could be punitive for impoverished or marginalised community members.
He said there are no details that have emerged yet as to what this application process entails, adding “we do not want to see a repeat of the statelessness issue in which genuine natives under this new legislation remain in limbo.”
“Even worse, we all fear that this kind of administrative requirement will lead to administrative backlog, as it has done in so many cases before.
“The various agencies need to commit to processing the applications without delay, otherwise there will be no change on the ground as natives continue to wait for years, even decades, before their cases are heard,” he said.
He said many fear that only the rich, powerful and administratively-savvy will reap the benefits while the kampung folk are once again left behind.
“The Sarawak government and all its agencies must ensure that this is not the case,” he said.
During a press conference yesterday, Sharifah Hasidah said any children born to a Sarawak native and a non-native need to apply for it if they want to be known as natives under the Interpretation (Amendment) Ordinance 2022 which comes into force on November 1 this year.
She said the application forms will be available at district offices at a fee of RM100 each.
She also said the Sarawak government will establish a committee chaired by the State Secretary to review and consider applications for native recognition.