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NGOs want Bukit Aman to head probe on alleged harassment of Penan women

KUALA LUMPUR, 7 Oct 2008: The Malaysian Bar Council together with 32 other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) including Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) and Suaram have jointly urged Bukit Aman to head a police investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and exploitation of Penan girls and women by loggers.

Bar Council chairperson Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan said this is because “there has been a loss of confidence towards the Sarawak police force” which has not looked into the allegations although it was first reported in 1994.

“Despite the obvious serious nature of these allegations, the Sarawak police have not taken the issues seriously. Sarawak Police Commissioner Datuk Mohammad Salleh’s insistence that a police report must be lodged first reflects poorly on the police as they can certainly take the initiative to investigate these reports without a formal report,” Ambiga said in a joint press statement released today.

“The communities affected have expressed a serious loss of confidence against the Sarawak police due to their long-standing dealings with them including in disputes with logging companies and the inaction and perpetuation of impunity in the aforesaid abuse cause,” she added.

Ambiga (centre) flanked by Ravi and Josiah at the press conference
“The best way to discourage [these harassments] is to carry out vigorous prosecution, but there has not been a single prosecution yet [to date]. Really we should be asking, ‘Why?’” she added at a press conference held at the Bar Council.

Also present was KL Legal Aid Centre chairperson Ravi Nekoo and WAO executive director Ivy Josiah.

The NGOs request for Bukit Aman to take up the case follows the announcement by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry to set up a temporary task force to investigate the allegations of sexual abuse against Penan women in Sarawak.

Its Minister Datuk Dr Ng Yen Yen said today the task force would work closely with NGOs, the Sarawak government and the police force to address the issue.

Dr Ng also said the task force would hold its first meeting tomorrow and added she may visit Sarawak at the end of October to look into the matter.

“I’m going to assume that the task force would look into the suggestion for Bukit Aman to be involved directly. There is a sexual assault unit in Bukit Aman, and it should assist the Sarawak police,” Ambiga said.

She added that all suggestions made at the press conference today will be brought up at the task force’s first meeting tomorrow.

The setting-up of the task force by the government was in response to the recent report by Swiss-based Bruno Manser Foundation, which amplified a long-held concern over sexual abuse of Penan women and children by timber camp workers in the Baram district.

In November 1994, the Penan community lodged a police report listing 10 instances of abuses allegedly committed against their persons, property and lands, including the rape of a 12-year-old girl by Police Field Force personnel, now known as General Operation Force.

The press statement claimed that this was quickly dismissed by the police even before any investigation had taken place.

The report also claimed that there had been several incidents of pregnancy among the Penan women and girls due to the abuses, while the logging workers also behaved like thugs and carried arms to intimidate the community.

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