Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Suffering Penans

It is sickening, even shocking that no less than the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry of Malaysia had to finally admit that Penan girls and women had been raped in the interior of Sarawak (Star, September 12, 2009, p N3) – where timber barons controlled huge swathes of land, which are also home to thousands of natives. The news report carried former Catholic priest turned social activist Michael Jok’s appeal that these reports of sexual abuse should be reason enough for the state government to step in. Sahabat Alam Malaysia field officer for Sarawak, Jok Jau Evong had even claimed that security barriers were found in every timber concession zone in the state. “NGOs are often prevented from entering even if we apply for permits. This sort of totalitarian power is unhealthy. The Government must remove it,” he had said.

In fact, according to Malaysiakini (September 12, 2009), the story first broke in October last year when some Penan rape victims came to Kuala Lumpur in the company of a few women NGOs to seek redress for their plight.

Sim Kwang Yang (MP for Bandar Kuching, 1982-1995) wrote in Malaysiakini today: “Because of the seriousness of the allegations and the publicity around the issue, a special task force was set up on Oct 8, 2008 under the then Women, Family, and Community Development Minister Ng Yen Yen. The task force also included representatives from a number of other ministries. A delegation had indeed visited the Penan settlements to interview the rape victims (November 10-15, 2008, according to the National Taskforce report). They were helped by the local NGOs, and did not encounter much problem during their investigation. A source reported that one female official was sobbing as she was taking down the testimony of the rape victims”. Needless to say, the task force did document these crimes.

Full details (in Malay) can be read from the 112-page “Women, Family and Community Task Force Investigation Report on Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Penan Girls and Women in Sarawak” (http://hornbillunleashed.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/penan-ir.pdf, posted September 08, 2009). Keadilan Wanita had demonstrated outside of (the current Women, Family and Community Development Minister) Shahrizat’s office on September 08, 2009 before they successfully obtained a copy of the said report.

Worse, The Star today had reported also that since 1995, the police have investigated 14 reports of alleged rape in Baram, Sarawak. And in January this year, a task force comprising Bukit Aman and Sarawak Police was formed to investigate these rape allegations in nine settlements – but it had been claimed that the ‘rape victims’ had refused to talk! It makes us wonder if these are merely pretexts by the authorities to wash their hands of this. Shelter Home executive director James Nayagam retorted: “The police excuse that they could not act on the culprits due to lack of details was not acceptable”. I agree. This is a cop-out!

Sim Kwang Yang had penned in his communal blog, Hornbill Unleashed (http://hornbillunleashed.wordpress.com/2009/09/11/3823/, posted September 11, 2009) that “rape is an expression of power over the victim as much as it is a crime of passion or lust. Therefore it is no surprise to learn that schoolgirls as young as 10 years old have been molested, abducted and raped by loggers. These loggers carry out these crimes because they can. The rapists feel secure in the knowledge that even when police reports are made, as in the cases of “Cindy” and “Bibi” described in the Ministry’s report, Bukit Aman and the Sarawak Police sit on the reports and do nothing.

Marudi Police Chief DSP Jonathan Jalin, for example, insulted the victims of these sex crimes, when he said police “investigated” reports by asking timber camp workers and schoolteachers whether such crimes had taken place. The loggers and teachers said no, and the police looked no further”.

It is shameful that this is happening right under our very noses in our own country. If Sarawakians don’t seem to care, then it is time that other Malaysians lend their voices to demand justice! Given the lackadaisical attitudes and the pervasive apathy of the authorities, we may not see justice done immediately. But do remember, we do have the power, through the ballot box – and the duty – to see that justice is done, one day.

As Sim quizzed: “Imagine your daughter or sister abducted and abused by loggers who had invaded your neighborhood. Would you still believe the authorities touting this as ‘development?’ Or would you insist logging activities be withdrawn immediately, until logging and plantation activities can be made accountable and beneficial to local communities?” Speak up, Sarawakians! Wake up, Malaysians to the injustices that befell fellow Malaysians!

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