HUMAN RIGHTS RESOURCE CENTER MALAYSIA

Archive for September 2009

Penan abuse: S’wak launches counter-attack
Keruah Usit . Sep 23, 09 . 10:44am

Embattled Sarawak government officials have responded to damaging media coverage of their treatment of Sarawak’s Penan minority, arguing that “negative NGOs” were to blame rather than the Sarawak authorities.

Flurries of angry headlines have emerged in the past few days in the Sarawak press. Local newspapers are tightly controlled by the state government and logging and plantation companies.

In a Sept 12 front page article in the Borneo Post, “Doubts over KL Penan report”, Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister and Minister in charge of Penan affairs Alfred Jabu cast doubt on the credibility of a report condemning the rape of minors by logging company workers.

The report had been issued by the national task force set up by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development to investigate allegations of rape of Penan girls and women by logging companies in far-flung villages in Baram.

The release of the report was delayed by Minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil for almost a year, raising questions of political interference. Shahrizat eventually released the report on Sept 8 after intense pressure by opposition parties and civil society.

Jabu’s outburst

According to the Borneo Post, Jabu said “there may be a report, but you must remember that negative non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were strongly behind it… (but) if there are grounds to take action, then it must be done.”

Jabu had added that the media had “played a role” by highlighting the issue.

He went on to admit that he had not even seen the report. However, the article quoted Jabu as saying he “believed negative NGOs had a hand in it”. He did not elaborate on the NGOs’ identities.

There was no response from Shahrizat or her ministry to Jabu’s outburst.

The national taskforce comprised senior members of her ministry, as well as members of the Home Affairs, Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage, Education, Rural and Regional Development, and Health, ministries, as well as representatives from the Sarawak government itself, and NGOs Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) and Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO).

The task force found that Penan girls as young as 10 had been sexually abused by employees of logging companies in remote Baram communities. The report concluded that Penans’ poverty and dependency on the logging companies for transport to and from school had contributed to the sexual abuse by logging company truck drivers and other workers.

Jabu has attempted to portray himself as a champion of Sarawakians, resisting interference from the federal government. He ignored the fact that the Sarawak government and a representative of the Royal Malaysian Police had participated in the national taskforce.

The Borneo Post quoted Jabu as saying some of the Penan were in “cahoots” with foreign NGOs, bringing up the spectre of Swiss environmentalist Bruno Manser. Jabu alleged Manser had gone to live with the Penan to make a documentary so that he could “make some money”.

Manser had highlighted injustices perpetrated on the Penan by logging companies in the 1980s and 1990s. He went missing in Baram in 2000. He is believed to have died there, but his body has never been found.

“The negative NGOs made use of the Penan to feed their concocted stories about Malaysia… if all the Penans are settled down, the negative NGOs cannot make up stories and cannot exploit the Penan any more. The negative NGOs will then lose their business,” he was quoted as saying.

Jabu appeared to describe the activism of Manser’s NGO, and the work of two women’s NGOs in the Ministry’s national task force on sexual abuse of the Penan by logging workers, as being under the same umbrella of “negative NGOs”. However, he stopped short of accusing the WCC and WAO of being in the “business” of exploiting the Penan.

In another Borneo Post article on Sept 20, headlined “NGOs manipulating Penan issue: Dawos”, State Environmental Advisor Dr James Dawos Mamit echoed Jabu’s allegations.

He was quoted as saying “if (the NGOs) highlight an issue like this, the foreign donors will come in and give them more money.”

Both Jabu and Dawos condemned the Sept 16 Malaysia Day protest by Penan and other Dayak villagers from Murum, at the Chief Minister’s office in Kuching. Fifteen protesters had been arrested for attempting to hand over a memorandum to the Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud. They had been protesting the loss of their ancestral lands to the construction of the giant Murum hydroelectric dam.

“It is not the Penans who oppose. You tell me who are the Penans? Where did they come from? Did they come from Murum?” Dawos asked, according to the Borneo Post.

Blockades dismantled

Meanwhile, Telang Usan state assembly representative Lihan Jok argued that Penan blockades against logging and plantation companies had been voluntarily dismantled in Baram, according to the Borneo Post on Sept 18.

PKR state information chief See Chee How made a subsequent press statement rebutting Lihan. See pointed out that he had been present at Lihan’s meeting in Long Bangan, Baram, with 200 Penan from 16 settlements, who had been protesting the incursion of the plantation company.

See uploaded a copy of a video of Lihan’s meeting with the Penan communities onto the website Hornbill Unleashed. He said the police, army and forestry officers had forcibly dismantled the blockades, after Lihan had said he could not ensure the Penans’ land rights could be protected.

“State leaders like Alfred Jabu and Lihan Jok should be held responsible for Sarawak’s plummeting international reputation,” See argued.

“The revelation of the task force report on the alleged sexual abuses of Penan girls and women has exposed the state’s neglect for the welfare of the state’s minority groups. The suppression of truths concerning their aspirations and dissent will only fuel the anger and agitation of right-thinking people.”

Chief Minister Taib did not respond personally to the international furore over Sarawak’s treatment of rural communities. However, he made an appeal in his Hari Raya message for an end of criticism of the state’s Barisan Nasional government.

With Sarawak elections to be held by next year, the mounting anger over the cosy relationship between Sarawak’s top politicians and wealthy timber and plantation companies, and their neglect of rural Sarawakians’ rights, are the last thing Taib needs.

By Ragunath Kesavan

THE Malaysian Bar is disappointed at the government’s continuing lack of political will to promote and protect the welfare and rights of indigenous peoples throughout Malaysia. The government’s inaction makes a mockery of its vote in favour of adopting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 2007 (“the UN Declaration”).

Most recently, the government refused to make public the report of the national task force established to investigate the allegations of sexual abuse against Penan women and girls. This refusal flouts democratic principles of transparency and accountability. The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry finally made the report publicly available only after pressure from various interest groups.

We are further disappointed that despite the Inspector-General of Police’s pledge of full support for a joint police-NGO investigative mission, the Sarawak police have now reportedly stated that the funds allocated are not sufficient to fund the participation of non-governmental organisation representatives.


Penan woman (Pics courtesy of Sofiyah Israa @ Flickr)

The sexual abuse faced by the Penan is but one of a multitude of human rights violations that indigenous communities face on an ongoing basis, and which are inextricably interlinked. Most indigenous persons are not able to fully enjoy their fundamental human rights because their traditions, customs and values are being eroded and their needs have been long neglected.

A crucial first step for the government, in fulfilling its state obligation, is to formally recognise, protect and guarantee the right of indigenous peoples to their ancestral lands throughout the country and to gazette such ancestral lands as reserved areas for them. If necessary, land laws must be amended to achieve this.

We are concerned that many indigenous communities still live without basic amenities and infrastructure. It is within the context of the deprivation of their rights to ancestral lands and access to basic services that indigenous peoples have become vulnerable to sexual abuse and other violations of human rights. We strongly urge the government to perform its duty by taking concrete steps to improve the welfare of indigenous peoples.

Finally, we denounce the wholly unnecessary arrest of 15 Sarawakian indigenous leaders on 16 Sept 2009, who were reportedly detained as they attempted to deliver a memorandum to the chief minister to protest the building of hydro-electric dams that would adversely affect their communities.

The manner in which our nation deals with the needs and rights of these communities is a reflection of our commitment to democracy and human rights. In this, our leaders have failed.

But change is possible. More can, and must, be done.

We therefore echo our earlier call, made in a resolution that was unanimously adopted at the Malaysian Bar’s 63rd annual general meeting on 15 March 2009, that the federal and state governments, as well as all public and private enterprises and individuals, respect and protect the rights of indigenous peoples pursuant to the UN Declaration, and not act in any manner inconsistent with those rights.

Ragunath Kesavan
President
Malaysian Bar

18 Sept 2009

koshy@thestar.com.my

KUALA LUMPUR: Human rights violations continue to occur almost on a daily basis in Malaysia, said the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) chairman Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman.

As an advisory body without executive power, he said there was nothing Suhakam could do to ensure the Government responded to and acted upon on its recommendations.

Although the Government had made significant improvement since the Suhakam Act became law on Sept 9, 1999, Malaysia did not have a perfect human rights record, Abu Talib said in his keynote address at Suhakam’s Malaysian Human Rights Day celebration on Wednesday.

He reminded participants at the celebration, which had the theme “Human Rights in Malaysia: The Last 10 Years,” that Suhakam was a “creature of statute” and that the solution lay in the hands of Malaysian voters.

“If you vote the right people into Parliament, they will amend the law to give us teeth to bite with,” he said in response to a question from the floor.

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Get a PDF copy of the Report here, courtesy of Hornbill Unleashed.

Report Cover

A long-awaited report by a national action committee probing allegations of sexual abuse of Penan women and children is finally released – after much political and public pressure. The damning report concludes that the allegations are true and they were perpetrated by outsiders – including logging company workers and traders – who had dealings with the Penan community.

A ‘mystery witness’ today made shocking disclosures at an inquest into the death of political aide Teoh Beng Hock, that he was tortured by Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) officers at the agency’s office on the 14th floor of Plaza Masalam here.

T Sivanesan, 23, an assistant manager with Kuantan-based Puncak Rezeki Makmur Sdn Bhd, said he was punched all over the body while his genitals were “whipped” with an iron rod wrapped in newspapers.

“At the time, I was wearing just an underwear while my hands were handcuffed to my back. I was also kicked and punched all over the body by between 10 and 15 men.

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