Hornbill Unleashed

December 2, 2009

A Tale of Two Atrocities

Filed under: Penan,Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 12:01 AM
Tags: , , , , ,

By Pak Bui

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a world away from Sarawak, from a geographical point of view. But the tale of crimes and atrocities committed in the DRC by a rebel army, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), rings bells among us here in Sarawak.

Some background information may be helpful. The DRC, formerly known as Zaire, is the third largest country in Africa, at the heart of the continent. The people of the Congo basin were enslaved in 1885 by King Leopold II of Belgium. The DRC was, in those days, a vast, private, royal rubber estate.

After independence in 1960, the people of the DRC have endured many further conflicts: civil wars, and wars involving neighbours Rwanda and Uganda.

The Rwandan war in 1994 saw the worst ethnic cleansing in the 20th century. Most of the massacres were inflicted by Hutus on Tutsis. After the Tutsis formed the government, many Hutu militias responsible for the genocide escaped to the DRC.

From their new base in the DRC, Hutu armies, including the FDLR, continued fighting against the Tutsi government in Rwanda, and against the government of the DRC.

This war is one of the bloodiest in the world. This year alone, during a recent attack launched by the DRC government against the FDLR, 1000 civilians were killed, more than a million were made refugees, and 7000 women and girls were raped in the FDLR’s area.

Rape used as a weapon

Rape is used as a weapon of war, to terrorise local communities and displace them from their villages and land.

The United Nations (UN) says the FDLR troops receive orders from military and political leaders who have escaped to Germany and France, including FDLR President Ignace Murwanashyaka, and his deputy Straton Musoni.

A BBC investigation by Peter Greste has shown these leaders send instructions by satellite telephone to FDLR troop commanders on the ground in the DRC. Safely ensconced in Europe, these leaders control operations like executives of multinational corporations.

The FDLR top brass have instructed their troops to impose a “scorched earth” policy on local civilian populations – to clear out the local villages by violent means. The militia has been using child soldiers and slaves to maintain their control over the rich mineral deposits in the area, including gold, and to continue to fund their war.

A former FDLR commander, Captain Busokoye Donat, now demobilised under a UN peace programme, told the BBC: “I personally saw a telegram in which President Murwanashyaka told commanders that they should attack villages to force civilians to flee. That’s to put pressure on the international community and Rwanda to negotiate with us.”

Rape has been one of these most effective inhuman tactics of war. More rape and sexual violence are being inflicted on girls and women in the eastern DRC, than anywhere else in the world at present, even in Darfur, Sudan.

Two accounts of suffering

There are striking similarities between the quotes and interviews compiled by the BBC probe into the DRC, and the stories and quotes that have been taking place on our home soil, in Sarawak.

Alin Seefa, 18, was raped by soldiers of the FDLR.

“It happened on the 8th of March, which is International Women’s Day. I decided to celebrate it in my grandmother’s house,” she said, in a refugee camp in Goma, eastern DRC.

“That night, around 8pm, the FDLR came into our village and kicked the door down. I tried to fight them off, but one of them grabbed me by the neck and dragged me into the forest,”

She became pregnant as a result.

“I was really sad because as a girl, I was not expected to get pregnant when I was still studying. Now I have lost my studies, and I have lost my life. And this makes me extremely sad.”

Bibi and Cindy, the names used in the investigation by the high-level task force of the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, were Penan teenagers raped by loggers in Baram, Sarawak.

Bibi was raped when Johnny (a man known locally as Ah Heng), an employee at the nearby logging camp, broke into Bibi’s house at night. Bibi became pregnant as a result.

Cindy was raped by a logging company employee, when she hitched a ride on a timber truck from her village, Long Kawi, to her school in Long Lama. When Cindy found that she had become pregnant, she had to make the difficult decision to stop her studies.

Two tales of denial

There are parallels, too, in the official responses by the FDLR, and the Sarawak government, to reports of rape.

“We are fighting against the plot of the international community against the FDLR, against the Hutu people.” (FDLR spokesman in the Congo, known as “La Forge”)

“Check your information, or you will be suspected by the decent people of Sarawak of trying to sabotage us when we have tried to develop our state.” (Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud, in response to the press reports of rape)

“We condemn all those human rights abuses…our troops do not do any rape in that area…whoever does them, we condemn them. Why should I accept they have committed any crimes, when there is no crime they have committed?” (FDLR executive secretary, Callixte Mbarashimana, in an interview with the BBC in Paris)

“To me, all these reports are not true. They did not happen.” (State Assistant Minister in the Chief Minister’s Department, Daud Abdul Rahman, after the Ministry’s report on loggers’ sexual abuse of Penans was published.)

“We condemn all those abuses. We have consistently called for an international investigation so that they can identify the authors of those abuses and bring them to justice. That is our policy.” (Mbarashimana)

“I am in a country where justice works. I am ready to face justice if there are any allegations that come with evidence,” (Mbarashimana)

“Malaysia is not a rogue state. We cannot simply arrest anyone seen within the vicinity of the Penan communities in Ulu Baram without facts. We need all the details to catch the perpetrators of this dastardly deed. Therefore, I would like the Ministry which did the study, the NGOs, the Penan community, and most important of all, the alleged victims, to supply all the details to the authorities,” (State Land Minister James Masing)

The Malaysian Deputy Inspector-General of Police announced on November 12 that the police investigation into the Penan rapes is now considered closed, although no-one has been prosecuted. The police did not mount a joint Police-NGO investigation mission to the communities of rape victims, although the Inspector-General of Police had promised this mission earlier. The police cited an insufficient budget as the reason for going back on their pledge.

The French government has failed to act on UN calls to investigate the FDLR leaders living on French soil. But the FDLR President Murwanasyaka and Deputy President Musoni have been arrested in Germany, and now face trial for terrorism, war crimes and crimes against humanity.


  1. Inadvertently we missed out Alfred Jabu the SUKU who repeatedly said in the papers”there is no such things,the NGOs are telling lies,meet me(NGOs) in the DUN on nov 7,i will proof that there is no such things happen.”

    Comment by wilson — December 2, 2009 @ 10:50 PM | Reply

  2. I was at a colloquium today here in Semenanjung. Small but choice affair. People brought up the atrocities against Penan women several times. We can be sure that this time around people are *remembering things*. There ain’t no more “Memory Hole.” The shredder is full and has burst. Too many people are reintroducing too much material to shred. Let’s keep pushing.

    Comment by 'Nother fellow — December 2, 2009 @ 9:16 PM | Reply

  3. Wont surprise me if what happen in DRC happen in Sarawak………very near future because its at boiling point now!

    Comment by falcon — December 2, 2009 @ 6:45 PM | Reply

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