Hornbill Unleashed

March 10, 2010

Rosmah: Will she? Won’t she?


By Mariam Mokhtar

THE Penan girls who were raped can be considered collateral damage for the Sarawak government and its state-sanctioned timber companies. The illegitimate children and the exploited Penan community are mere side-effects in the push for progress.

It is no longer about the Penan girls and the timber workers who raped them. Actually, it is about the rape of our system of administration of justice.

Recently, three Sarawak women activists handed a petition to the prime minister’s wife in an attempt to engage her support in bringing justice to the Penans.

This unprecedented action of approaching Rosmah Mansor during a state banquet will undoubtedly raise questions of breaches of security during these official functions. Might heads roll because of an unguarded moment by protection officers, when three ‘concerned individuals’ successfully presented a letter and a sheaf of documents to Rosmah?

Surely, what is more important is whether these activists manage to rekindle the questions of breaches of trust between the Penans and the Sarawak government, for its failure to bring justice to the raped Penan girls.

Others failed to speak up

Ironically, Rosmah was seated beside Empiang Jabu, the wife of the state deputy chief minister, Alfred Jabu. His callous remarks arrogantly described the Penans as ‘good storytellers’ and that the reports ‘generated’ were ‘lies’.

And as if to increase the poignant agony of the Sarawak detractors, Rosmah was flanked on her right by Fatimah Abdullah, Assistant Minister in the Chief Minister’s Department, who like the rest of the well-oiled government machinery, also spectacularly failed to speak up for the Penans.

Official photos deftly captured the stunned and shocked expressions of these two women, on either side of the PM’s wife, as the three activists from the Malay, Chinese and Iban communities, appealed to Rosmah’s motherly and caring instincts to help the Penans.

Thus far, the official line has been to deny that the loggers sexually exploited the Penans. Instead, the Penans have been victims of a smear campaign and depicted as primitive and promiscuous liars, who are not willing to embrace logging as a form of development.

In a BBC Radio 4 interview on the flagship Today programme, Sarawak’s Minister of Land Development, Dr James Masing, replied, “I think this is where we get confused. I think… the Penan are a most interesting group of people and they operate on different social etiquette as us… a lot this sex by consensual sex.”

Undaunted, the BBC correspondent Angus Stickler related how Mary, a young Penan teenager, had been dragged from her room, was beaten unconscious and raped after she had hitched a ride to school on a logging truck, how she and some other girls became pregnant as a consequence and that the federal government task force had confirmed that 10-year-old girls had been raped by loggers.

james-masingIncredibly James Masing told the BBC, “They change their stories, and when they feel like it. That’s why I say Penan are very good storytellers.”

The findings of the Task Force from the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development Task Force, confirmed that rape and other types of sexual exploitation had taken place. The full report of over a hundred pages is a heart wrenching portrayal of the suffering of this marginalised community. It took 8 months to compile and more months before being made public.

If the roads that are built by the timber companies are supposed to bring the Penans development, then these same roads transport the evil people who destroy their livelihood and who cruelly snatch away the innocence of their children.

Loggers searching for girls

The Penan people, known for their respect of the land and who live off it by hunting, tragically find that progress reverses the roles of the hunter and prey; they end up being hunted by these loggers, who raid their villages in search of girls.

In January 2009, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Musa Hassan promised to give his full backing to the joint Police-NGO
 investigation into the allegations of rape by those employed in the Sarawak logging industry. But today, both the police and government have announced that they lack the capacity and funds to conduct proper investigations, and that the case is closed.

The Minister for Women, Family and Community Development, Shahrizat Abdul Jalil has failed to help the Penan. Similarly, efforts by the PKR Wanita Chief, Zuraida Kamaruddin to table for parliamentary debate, the findings of the Task Force, have also proved unsuccessful.

Various ministers have boasted that the government under Najib “..has nothing to hide and is prepared to reveal the truth as well as to take the appropriate action should there be any wrongdoing.”

The “People first. Performance now” soundbite, rings hollow and meaningless.

If Article 8 (1) of the Federal Constitution states that “All persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law”, then why is this not applicable to the Penans? Are they not considered true Malaysians because they are nomadic or too insignificant?

In April, Rosmah will be making a trip to the United States to address a conference on womens’ issues. She claims on her blog to ‘actively champion womens’ issues and advocate womens’ rights and interests’. Thus, this would be the perfect opportunity to end the suffering of the Penans and really have something of importance and pride to report at this conference in April.

In a recent television interview about the ‘work-life balance’ of the prime minister and his wife, Rosmah said that, “I will ensure that he is not worried by haggling over petty matters as he should focus his thoughts on the people and the country.”

Now that she was interrupted at dinner and asked to study this report with utmost urgency, will she convince the prime minister that the Penans do constitute the fabric that is Malaysia, that the rape of the Penan girls is not a petty matter and that he focuses on bringing justice to the Penan community?

So, will she or won’t she?


  1. Asking Rosmah to help is like asking Grace Mugabe to help. Just because she’s a woman has nothing to do with it.

    Comment by KB — March 10, 2010 @ 3:46 PM | Reply

  2. Bravo to the three ladies. Keep up the pressure and continue your crusade to fight the gross injustices melted to these innocent young girls. All is not lost as you three brave souls are testimony that in this blessed country of ours there are still clear voices of conscience. I am proud of you.

    Comment by Pak Noet — March 10, 2010 @ 3:18 PM | Reply

  3. There’s rape and there’s the ultimate – infanticide! And cases are rising !

    Comment by Watcha — March 10, 2010 @ 12:53 PM | Reply

  4. As I said before, if there’s no money to be milked, Rosmah will ask you to fly kite. Try asking her to supply carpets to all the Penan homes. Maybe she will sit up. Phui…

    Comment by Apaijabu — March 10, 2010 @ 9:58 AM | Reply

    • Don’t be too quick to judge her yet. Come Sarawak election she will bring along her carpets for every Penan homes and hug every Penan women raped. It’s just that right now she has other more important things to do like meeting with ‘powerful’ women eg Venezualan race car driver Milka Duno!

      Comment by Jong — March 10, 2010 @ 4:08 PM | Reply

  5. We should not condemn Rosmah for her shopping binges and foreign jaunts using Malaysians’ hard-earned money.

    Underneath all those layers of make-up and bouffant hair, she may be very different from her public persona.

    A lot of Malaysians write in to blogs and news sites saying “give Najib a chance, give Rosmah a chance”. But the corpulent couple should never have had a chance to be PM and Mrs PM. Thanks Umno, for giving Malaysia a pair of “leaders” who have gained worldwide notoriety.

    Comment by Pak Bui — March 10, 2010 @ 8:45 AM | Reply

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