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Issue 1, 2018 Expand all abstracts
Article

Access_open The Courts and the Restitution of Indigenous Territories in Malaysia

Authors Yogeswaran Subramaniam Ph.D. and Colin Nicholas
AbstractAuthor's information

    Despite enjoying distinct and privileged constitutional statuses, the Indigenous minorities of Malaysia, namely, the natives of Sabah, natives of Sarawak and the Peninsular Malaysia Orang Asli continue to endure dispossession from their customary lands, territories and resources. In response, these groups have resorted to seeking justice in the domestic courts to some degree of success. Over the last two decades, the Malaysian judiciary has applied the constitutional provisions and developed the common law to recognise and protect Indigenous land and resource rights beyond the literal confines of the written law. This article focuses on the effectiveness of the Malaysian courts in delivering the preferred remedy of Indigenous communities for land and resource issues, specifically, the restitution or return of traditional areas to these communities. Despite the Courts’ recognition and to a limited extent, return of Indigenous lands and resources beyond that conferred upon by the executive and legislative arms of government, it is contended that the utilisation of the judicial process is a potentially slow, costly, incongruous and unpredictable process that may also not necessarily be free from the influence of the domestic political and policy debates surrounding the return of Indigenous lands, territories and resources.


Yogeswaran Subramaniam Ph.D.
Yogeswaran Subramaniam is an Advocate and Solicitor in Malaysia and holds a PhD from the University of New South Wales for his research on Orang Asli land rights. In addition to publishing extensively on Orang Asli land and resource rights, he has acted as legal counsel in a number of landmark indigenous land rights decisions in Malaysia.

Colin Nicholas
Colin Nicholas is the founder and coordinator of the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC). He received a PhD from the University of Malaya on the topic of Orang Asli: Politics, Development and Identity, and has authored several academic articles and books on Orang Asli issues. He has provided expert evidence in a number of leading Orang Asli cases. The law stated in this article is current as on 1 October 2017.

    In the process of adjudication and litigation, indigenous peoples are usually facing a very complex and demanding process to prove their rights to their lands and ancestral territories. Courts and tribunals usually impose a very complex and onerous burden of proof on the indigenous plaintiffs to prove their rights over their ancestral territories. To prove their rights indigenous peoples often have to develop map of their territories to prove their economic, cultural, and spiritual connections to their territories. This article reflects on the role played by the mapping of indigenous territories in supporting indigenous peoples’ land claims. It analyses the importance of mapping within the process of litigation, but also its the impact beyond the courtroom.


Jeremie Gilbert PhD
Jeremie Gilbert is professor of Human Rights Law, University of Roehampton.

Ben Begbie-Clench
Ben Begdie-Clench is a consultant working with San communities in southern Africa.

    In May 2017, the Ogiek indigenous community of Kenya successfully challenged the denial of their land and associated rights before the African Court of Human and Peoples Rights (‘the Court’). In the first indigenous peoples’ rights case considered the Court, and by far the largest ever case it has had to consider, the Court found violations of Articles 1, 2, 8, 14, 17 (2) and (3), 21 and 22 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (‘the African Charter’). It therefore created a major legal precedent. In addition, the litigation itself and Ogiek’s participation in the various stages of the legal process provided a model for community engagement, through which the Ogiek were empowered to better understand and advocate for their rights. This article will first explain the history of the case and the Court’s findings, and then move on to examine in further detail methods employed to build the Ogiek’s capacity throughout, and even beyond, the litigation.


Lucy Claridge
Legal Director, Minority Rights Group International.

    Indigenous claims have challenged a number of orthodoxies within state legal systems, one of them being the kinds of proof that can be admissible. In Canada, the focus has been on the admissibility and weight of oral traditions and histories. However, these novel forms are usually taken as alternative means of proving a set of facts that are not in themselves “cultural”, for example, the occupation by a group of people of an area of land that constitutes Aboriginal title. On this view, maps are a neutral technology for representing culturally different interests within those areas. Through Indigenous land use studies, claimants have been able to deploy the powerful symbolic capital of cartography to challenge dominant assumptions about “empty” land and the kinds of uses to which it can be put. There is a risk, though, that Indigenous understandings of land are captured or misrepresented by this technology, and that what appears neutral is in fact deeply implicated in the colonial project and occidental ideas of property. This paper will explore the possibilities for an alternative cartography suggested by digital technologies, by Indigenous artists, and by maps beyond the visual order.


Kirsten Anker Ph.D.
Associate Professor, McGill University Faculty of Law, Canada. Many thanks to the two anonymous reviewers for their frank and helpful feedback.

    This paper examines three Inter-American Court (IACtHR) cases on behalf of the Enxet-Sur and Sanapana claims for communal territory in Paraguay. I argue that while the adjudication of the cases was successful, the aftereffects of adjudication have produced new legal geographies that threaten to undermine the advances made by adjudication. Structured in five parts, the paper begins with an overview of the opportunities and challenges to Indigenous rights in Paraguay followed by a detailed discussion of the adjudication of the Yakye Axa, Sawhoyamaxa, and Xákmok Kásek cases. Next, I draw from extensive ethnographic research investigating these cases in Paraguay to consider how implementation actually takes place and with what effects on the three claimant communities. The paper encourages a discussion between geographers and legal scholars, suggesting that adjudication only leads to greater social justice if it is coupled with effective and meaningful implementation.


Joel E. Correia Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Arizona.

    The judgment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of Kaliña and Lokono Peoples v. Suriname is noteworthy for a number of reasons. Particularly important is the Court’s repeated citation and incorporation of various provisions of the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into its interpretation of the American Convention on Human Rights. This aids in greater understanding of the normative value of the Declaration’s provisions, particularly when coupled with the dramatic increase in affirmations of that instrument by UN treaty bodies, Special Procedures and others. The Court’s analysis also adds detail and further content to the bare architecture of the Declaration’s general principles and further contributes to the crystallisation of the discrete, although still evolving, body of law upholding indigenous peoples’ rights. Uptake of the Court’s jurisprudence by domestic tribunals further contributes to this state of dynamic interplay between sources and different fields of law.


Fergus MacKay JD
Article

Access_open Afterword

Authors Stuart Kirsch
Author's information

Stuart Kirsch
Professor of Anthropology, University of Michigan.

Dr. Beatriz Barreiro Carril
Lecturer of International Law (Rey Juan Carlos University).

Kristin Henrard Ph.D.
Kristin Henrard is professor minorities and fundamental rights in the department of International and EU law of the Erasmus School of Law in the Netherlands.

Jeremie Gilbert
Jeremie Gilbert is professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Roehampton in the UK.

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