Shahrizat stonewalls on 'sexual abuse' report
Aug 12, 09
The allegations provoked national outrage when the stories of two teenagers from Long Item and Long Belok were highlighted in the mainstream media last year. The reports described unwanted pregnancies as a result of the sexual abuse.
Survivors have said reports made to the Sarawak police have been disregarded. They claimed the police told them investigations could not be successfully carried out, because the alleged crimes had been committed in remote areas.
The Bar Council, the Women's Aid Organisation (WAO), Suaram, and other civil society groups called for Bukit Aman to send an investigative team to the Baram villages.
The groups said last year that a police report on the alleged rape of a 12-year-old Penan girl had been made as far back as 1994, yet no meaningful attempt at investigation had ever been carried out.
“There has been a loss of confidence in the Sarawak police force,” then Bar Council head Ambiga Sreenevasan argued last October.
Sarawak Police Commissioner Mohamad Salleh said the police could not act without official reports, but victims have accused the local police of refusing to accept reports.
“I have not heard of any such complaints from Penan communal leaders in my many trips to ulu Baram,” said Jabu, chief of the state government's steering committee on the Penan.
Marudi district police chief Jonathan Jalin echoed Jabu, saying police had interviewed teachers from Long Item and Long Belok, but “the teachers told us they had received no reports on the matter”.
Jalin went on to say that police had also interviewed workers from the two logging companies operating in the area, and had found no incriminating evidence. He did not mention whether the survivors of alleged abuse or their families had been interviewed.
The appeals by civil society groups to Bukit Aman have also been ignored after it initially promised to investigate the reports.
Silence not explained
The only 'investigations' that have been made public were on the front page of a local newspaper, the Borneo Post, owned by KTS, a logging company.
A team from the newspaper interviewed several villagers from Long Item and Long Kawi, and reported that those interviewed had not heard of any cases of sexual abuse.
The Borneo Post went on to report that a Chinese man, referred to as 'Ah Heng', a worker at a timber camp, had said he is “married” to one of the alleged survivors of sexual abuse and admitted he had fathered her two children.
Around the same time as these articles, two large logging companies - Interhill and Samling - made unsolicited public statements denying that their employees were involved in sexual abuse of girls from local communities.
Civil society groups turned to the federal government to seek redress for the victims and to protect the vulnerable Penan from logging workers.
The team was headed by director-general Dr Noorul Ainur Mohd Nur and included representatives of the Women's Centre for Change (WCC) and WAO.
“We are very focused on looking into the plight of Penan women and girls…we must ensure that Penan women are protected and not exploited,” Ng said.
The report was submitted to Shahrizat last November. However, nine months later, she has continued to refuse to release the report to the public.
“Interested parties can come to the ministry, and we can discuss the details of the report,” she said.
Shahrizat did not offer to transport Penan women from rural Baram to visit her ministry to discuss the report.
Prema Devaraj of WCC, another member of the team, noted: “The public has a right to know the outcome of the investigation, and what the government plans to do with regard to the information in the report.”
Shahrizat has declined to answer questions regarding the findings. She has also refused to provide any reasons for with holding its recommendations from the public.
The deprived region of Baram is vast: it covers an area larger than Selangor. The rural poor in remote areas remain in the thrall of the wealthy timber, plantation and dam-building companies.
The Sarawak government continues to assert that logging brings development to rural communities.
The elite of the state and the federal governments, the police, the mainstream media, and the mammoth logging companies have shown close historic cooperation, in crushing dissent against logging.
Frustrated civil society groups see the suppression of the 2008 report on sexual abuse of Penan girls as another example of this collaboration.
KERUAH USIT is a human rights activist - anak Sarawak, bangsa Malaysia. His 'The Antidote' column, which appears in Malaysiakini every Wednesday, is an attempt to allow the voices of marginalised people to be heard all over Malaysia.