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Heartbeat Voices from Indigenous Youth of Peninsula Malaysia

Suara Nadi Belia Orang Asli Semenanjung Malaysia

Executive Summary

The Orang Asli youth of Peninsula Malaysia stand at the center of the climate crisis, bearing the brunt of its impacts; from socio-economic hardships to environmental threats that challenge their Indigenous rights to ancestral lands and endanger their way of life. 

This report highlights significant concerns within Malaysia's human rights and environmental nexus. Orang Asli youth, at the frontline of climate change, bear witness to a marked increase in extreme events, notably severe flooding, which brings profound losses from mortality to property damage. Inadequate emergency responses exacerbate the resulting hardships, further entrenched by escalating human-wildlife conflicts. Simultaneously, incursions into Orang Asli territories amplify environmental degradation, largely from legal logging, mono-crop timber plantations, and mining-related impacts such as soil erosion, landslides, and river contamination. This not only poses long-term health threats but erodes their connection to the land. Lastly, the energy transition towards renewable energy and rare earth mineral mining underscores a glaring distributive injustice. Marginalised communities disproportionately bear the transition's brunt, with development projects like mega-dams risking the erasure of spiritually vital historical sites and undermining Indigenous territorial autonomy.

The Orang Asli youth must be at the forefront of climate governance discussion. Their energy and determination are palpable, yet they are confronted with structural challenges that undermine their autonomy. The prevailing legal frameworks, unfortunately, recognise the Orang Asli as mere tenants of their ancestral lands, not as the rightful custodians. Such designations not only limit their autonomy but also threaten their cultural heritage. Frequent land acquisitions, coupled with inadequate government interventions, exacerbate their vulnerabilities. These actions lead to unwanted relocations, causing a deep erosion of their cultural identity.

Grassroots Mobilization and Civil Action: It is heartening to witness Orang Asli youth, especially young women, galvanising their communities. They are not mere passive observers; they are at the helm of grassroots organisations, making their voices heard on national platforms, and driving civil-led actions. Their advocacy encompasses a broad spectrum, from Indigenous rights to climate policies that resonate with their unique lived experiences.

Women: The Pillars of Resilience: Both young and elderly Orang Asli women are not just survivors but active agents of change in the face of climate adversities. Their roles in climate adaptation and mitigation are nothing short of transformative. These women embody resilience and resourcefulness. Beyond just coping, they are leading the way in initiatives centred on climate adaptation, sustainable resource management, and bolstering community resilience.

In pursuing its sustainability and net-zero goals, Malaysia must consider the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the 18 recommendations by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) to safeguard Indigenous land rights. This approach bridges climate and development issues with a human rights perspective. Policy reforms must include Orang Asli youth voices to prevent community disempowerment, and legal tools should enable the Orang Asli to assert their rights.

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