Hornbill Unleashed

November 10, 2018

Ten years after the Penan Rape inquiry – when will impunity end?

Filed under: Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 8:04 AM

On 5 October, the Nobel Peace Prize for 2018 was announced. The recipients were laureates Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad “for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.”

Denis Mukwege is a gynecologist specialising in the treatment of women victimised by sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The on-going civil war in Congo has cost the lives of millions of civilians; girls and women have the worst exploitation of sexual violence and abuse.

Nadia Murad is herself a victim of rape and other abuses by the IS army when they invaded Sinjar in August 2014. Nadia was then 19 years old and just one of the many thousands of Yezidi girls and women whom the IS served as a weapon in the fight against Yezidis and other religious minorities (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/oct/06/nadia-murad-isis-sex-slave-nobel-peace-prize#comments). [The Yezidi is a Kurdish-speaking ethnic minority group inhabiting areas in the north and northwest region of Iraq, besides some places in Syria and Turkey.]

Sexual violence against girls and women goes beyond situations of war and armed conflict such as that in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq or Syria. Indeed, sexual violence is perpetuated against girls and women in other situations as well, and occurs everywhere – in remote agricultural farms/plantations, logging camps, post-natural disaster shelters and so on.

Closer to home, many Malaysians would probably have not known, or if you did know, would probably have not remembered that sexual violence including rape and exploitation of Penan women and girls in Middle and Ulu Baram, Sarawak, was happening over many, many years.

The existence of sexual abuse and rape of Penan women and girls

Disturbing reports alleging the rape and sexual abuse of Penan women and girls by workers from two big logging companies operating in Sarawak’s Middle Baram region were highlighted in September 2008. Both companies denied the allegations.

This also sparked an unprecedented public outcry. The Ministry for Women, Family and Community Development, then under the former BN-UMNO government, was pressured nonetheless to investigate the situation.

And that they did:

  • Formed a high level National task Force comprised representatives from various government departments and ministries, officials from the Sarawak state government, the police, and representatives from Peninsular-based women’s non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
  • Conducted an inquiry in Baram from 10-15 November 2008.
  • Released a summary of the Report findings to the wider public, 10 months later, on 8 September 2009 (ONLINE LINK https://hornbillunleashed.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/penan-ir.pdf)

 

Today, 10 November, marks a decade since the Task Force inquiry confirming that sexual violence happened. Crucially, the Task Force noted that: ‘the role of development facilitated the the rape and sexual abuse cases by leaving survivors dependent on and vulnerable to outsiders and unanimously concluded that the sexual violence faced by the Penan was closely connected to poorly planned and piecemeal development programmes.’

However, neither a review of those development programmes was recommended, nor did the report place any responsibility on the logging companies and their workers.

Worse, the reactions and responses of state ministers and politicians aligned with Sarawak’s ruling parties were nothing new – allegations without any basis, manipulated by a mastermind, even possibly Western NGOs, they reportedly said. A politician, himself an indigenous, even said the Penan were ‘very good story-tellers’.

Speaking out about the issue

Frustrations over the lack of effective follow-up and prosecution – just official and company denial and blame – pushed national and international NGOs themselves to conduct an independent Fact-Finding Mission. On 1-7 November 2009, experienced field members of the Mission conducted fieldwork in Baram “to ensure that the allegations of sexual violence and exploitation are thoroughly and fairly investigated by the authorities.”

The Mission confirmed that multiple forms of sexual violence was indeed happening, and documented at least seven more allegations of sexual violence and exploitation of Penan girls and women by logging company workers; several victims being schoolgirls as young as 10 years old as well as girls being abducted and sexually abused along the logging tracks by the workers.

(For the full report, see: The Penan Support Group, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), and the Asian Indigenous Women’s Network (AIWN) (July 2010). A Wider Context of Sexual Exploitation of Penan Women and Girls in Middle and Ulu Baram, Sarawak, Malaysia, SUARAM Komunikasi, Selangor.) (AVAILABLE ONLINE AT https://hornbillunleashed.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/penan-report_web.pdf)

Disturbingly, in May 2011, by word of mouth, new cases of timber workers raping Penan women and girls in the Upper and Middle Baram regions were alleged to be still happening. But the victims did not report them to the police. So we never ever know how many more Penan, or other girls and women were/are victims.

The Penan were more aware than anybody else that the state authorities and police wont even listen to their pleas for help to deal with the violence against them, based on past experiences. For example, in 30 September 1994, 15 Penan settlements from Ulu Baram had reported to the police on violence against their communities including the alleged gang rape of a 15 year old Penan girl. On 22 March 1995, a family reported to police alleging that two unknown men had raped their 12-year old daughter. The sexual abuse and rapes of Penan women and girls in areas where logging companies were operating remained shrouded.

The Logging Hoax

Since 1987, after logging came into the remote Baram, Apoh Tutoh and Ulu Limbang areas, many Penan (as well as those from other indigenous groups) had been losing both their rights to access forests and their mobility in the forests because of the disruptions by logging. This had created increasing dependency on logging companies for transportation; to go to school, to see a doctor or a government officer in cities and towns, and so on. Governments, both Federal and State, have effectively privatised their responsibilities over Penans and other rural communities to logging corporations.

Far from benefiting the Penan, the influx of outsiders had, in many cases, subjected the Penan to external pressures and the consequences of logging. The situation of Penan women and girls in remote areas where the majority of logging took place became more vulnerable.

How were the Penan to know about the increasing sexual violence and rape of their children and women, when they had been told only about the benefits of logging?

Indeed, the logging industry in Sarawak is often presented by the state authorities, particularly Taib Mahmud who was the former chief minister and now Sarawak’s Governor (Head of State), as a means of bringing progress – bridges, schools, libraries, roads and so on to the impoverished and backward Penan. And this logging agenda for development continues in the post-Taib era.

While the state government can boast of Sarawak’s vibrant economic transformation from timber revenues over the decades, it utterly failed to ask, or rather, address an utmost important question: The real price was paid by whom?

Crucially, what effective practical follow-up and legal actions had been taken against impunity for perpetrators of the sexual violence and exploitation of the Penan girls and women that was happening over many, many years?

The Penans, like other indigenous peoples in Malaysia, say they are not against development. On the contrary, it is their right not to be denied the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of development. But whose yardstick is being used to define development?

As a Penan leader once asked, “Is clearing the jungle and destroying the Penan lifestyle development? How about providing us with basic amenities so that we too can enjoy life? How about giving us schools so that our children need not travel several hours to attend classes, and in the process being vulnerable to sexual predators?”

Unfortunately, the reality is that the most lucrative profits and the best housing, are in the hands of the few. In Sarawak, the ruling politicians and politically well connected businesses have been too powerful over the decades, and therefore Sarawak is to them certainly a dream state of Malaysia. This contrasts in benefits received by indigenous and other local communities who inhabit the forests.


Source : By Carol Yong,  Photo credited to Carol Yong & Sarawakian Access (SACCESS)


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3 Comments »

  1. Baru Bian and the rest of PKR should QUIT PKR and Form Other Sarawakian Interest Party and SACK MALAYA….No ISLAM BIAS RUN STATE, ADMINISTRATION or NATION is ANY GOOD IN THIS WORLD….Let alone Malaysia…. NONE YOU CAN NAME YOU MIGHT WANT TO MIGRATE TO..>WHY IS MUSLIM WANTING A BETTER LIFE IN NON MUSLIM NATION.>>>> SENT THE ROHINGYAS AND BANGLA AND ALL INDONESIAN ILLEGALS TO SAUDI ARABIA, Qatar,,,,,and we DO NOT HAVE TO SUPPORT HAMAS-HEZBOLLAH AND CONDONE CHILD PEDOPHILIA AND FGM IN MALAYSIA…YET ANWAR AND WAN AZIZAH SUPPORT THIS SICKNESS OF ISLAM …TIME TO DIFFER AND SACK MALAYA…..ISLAM IS NOT MALAY….MALAY CULTURE HAVE DIES….ITS THE FAKE ARAB CULTURE IN MALAYSIA…MUCH LIKE FAKE SULTANATE ACROSS MALAYA!!

    Comment by bumi non malay — November 20, 2018 @ 4:55 PM | Reply

  2. The right wing of UMNO has seen the opportunity to capitalize on the misunderstanding of Icerd and attack PH. Even if Malaysia ratifies Icerd the discriminatory policies would still go on. Malays must shed the handout mindset.

    Comment by Hattan — November 20, 2018 @ 12:49 PM | Reply

    • The Malays/other bumis make up 70% of the population. You can’t take away their privileges and ‘tongkat’ from them. Will an ant give up sugar when it knows it is sweet and it does not have to work for it? Who will give away what makes their lives so easy? The ICERD issue is now galvanizing support for UMNO & PAS to lie in the same bed. Even the Malays in PH are not going to support the withdrawal of these perks.

      Comment by K Sankaran — November 23, 2018 @ 11:00 PM | Reply


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