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Thursday, September 17, 2009

> Penan rape: Protest held in front of PM's office

Yip Ai Tsin

Several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) today staged a picket outside the Prime Minister's office in Putrajaya alleging that the government lacked commitment to resolve the plight of the Penan women and girls who were raped by loggers.

Shortly after singing "Negaraku" to commemorate "Hari Malaysia", the group was told to disperse by a group of 15 police personnel who threatened to arrest them for illegal assembly.

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG), which comprises five Malaysian women's rights groups, Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC) and Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) wants the government to:

1) make public the current status of the police criminal investigation of the sexual abuse cases and allocate adequate resources for the investigation as well as the prosecution of the perpetrators;

2) conduct an investigation into the activities of the logging companies identified in the cases of sexual abuse as well as other companies with commercial interests in the Orang Asal native customary rights lands , with a view to uncover and stop violations of human rights;

3) provide support for the survivors of sexual abuse in the form of financial aid, healthcare, education and counselling for the individuals concerned and their families;

4) take steps to ensure that survivors of sexual violence among isolated or rural indigenous communities such as the Penan are able to obtain legal redress by making the justice system more accessible to women from these communities, eradicating corruption among the police force and disseminating easy-to-understand information on their rights and the law;

5) abide by its obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child;

6) fully incorporate the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into federal and state legislation and policies, and not to act in any manner inconsistent with the rights protected therein.

Implement task force

JAG also demanded that the government immediately implement the recommendations of the task force and closely monitor their implementation.

While noting that Malaysia voted for the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples, JAG said that the Department of Orang Asli Affairs director-general continue to have the power to displace Orang Asli communities from reserve lands and award compensation for the displacement at his/her discretion, without the communities' free, prior and informed consent.

(The declaration affirmed indigenous community's right not to be forcibly removed from their lands or territories, and the right to participate in decision-making.)

"Sabahan and Sarawakian indigenous people continue to find themselves having to take, often at tremendous risk and very little financial support, case after case native customary land rights to court.

"The communities are all still waiting for justice. They have been met by stone-walling, summary dismissals of their concerns, false allegations of foreign intervention, and a seeming lack of interest by the authorities on meeting their obligations to protect, fulfill and promote human rights in this country," said JAG in a statement.

Orang Asli activist Jenita Engi (right) urged the government to take heed and resolve the matter as justice has been eluding the Penan people for a long time.

Also present was PKR Wanita chief Zuraida Kamaruddin (left) who described the report prepared by Women, Family and Community Development Minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil as inadequate as it did not lay out action against the culprits and measures to ensure the safety of the Penan women.

"We wonder why is Shahrizat keeping quiet and beating around the bush in this matter. We are even more surprised with Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister Alfred Jabu for doubting the Penans and blaming the NGOs for making up stories," she said.

Instead of protecting the Penans, BN's Sarawak state government is more bent in safeguarding the interest of the logging companies, she added.

"Clearly, self-serving Shahrizat is in cahoots with them," she said.
Report finally made public

Last year, the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development set up a task force, comprising ministry officials and women NGO representatives, to investigate allegations of sexual abuse against Penan women and girls in Sarawak.

Its report was released earlier this week and listed at least eight cases of sexual abuse of Penan girls and women by logging camp workers. The report said several of the victims were schoolgirls as young as 10.

Local NGOs claim these documented cases were only a small fraction of the total number of cases of sexual abuse.

Allegations first surfaced on the Bruno Manser Foundation website last year - Malaysiakini.