Categorised | Letters to the Editor

Penan Support Group: Govt denials “appalling”

THE Penan Support Group (PSG) is appalled that Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Heng Seai Kie has refuted the findings in the PSG’s mission report uncovering more cases of rape and sexual exploitation among the Penan. Heng cited minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil’s “fact-finding mission” on 13 July to the Baram region and the lack of police reports as proof.

We find this denial and misinformation problematic for several reasons. First, the minister’s visit was not a “fact-finding mission” to investigate the allegations of new rape cases, but to merely “have a feel of the place”, to quote a report in The Star.

Second, the minister did not meet any of the members from the Penan communities cited in the PSG report. She spent only one hour on her walkabout of Batu Bungan, an accessible village near the prime tourist spot of Mulu National Park. This is nowhere near any of the three remote villages the PSG mission members visited during their investigation.

The deputy minister’s denial joins a chorus of similarly outrageous statements made by various officials since the PSG report was released. These include Sarawak Land Development Minister Datuk Seri Dr James Masing, who threatened rape victims with arrest if they refused to cooperate.

The reasons for the lack of police reports in this matter are thoroughly documented in the PSG report. Not least of these reasons is the Penan’s deep mistrust of state authorities due to years of poor response to grievances related to land rights, poverty, and access to basic services.

Penan woman with her child

Penan mother with her adopted child (Pic courtesy of Sofiyah Israa)

We reiterate that it is precisely these denials that prompted the PSG fact-finding mission to document and investigate the wider context to the sexual abuse and exploitation of Penan women and children. To fixate on individual perpetrators and criminal investigations alone will not stop the sexual violence from recurring if the systematic exploitation of the Penan persists.

Development policies which have allowed the encroachment of indigenous peoples’ lands and destroyed their livelihoods and culture have led to dependency, impoverishment and the disempowerment of many Penan. This is the wider context of the sexual violence and exploitation being raised. In areas where the state has given logging concessions to logging companies, the power wielded by these companies over the indigenous peoples in these areas is immense.

For instance, many Penan children are dependent on logging companies for transport to school because the state has failed to provide schools closer to these communities or adequate transportation to the nearest schools. This makes the children even more vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Until the state takes serious steps to reassess its development policies and ensure the people’s rights, welfare and protection, this type of violence will continue.

Considering these facts, we urge the prime minister, when he visits the Baram region next week, to visit communities working with both the state and independent groups such as the PSG to receive a holistic picture. We recognise that visits to the Sarawak interior takes weeks to prepare, and hence are concerned that time constraints will limit the opportunities for engagement with as many people as possible.

Penan Support Group

15 July 2010

The Penan Support Group comprises 35 non-governmental organisations in Malaysia.

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3 Responses to “Penan Support Group: Govt denials “appalling””

  1. Lainie Yeoh says:

    I want Heng Seai Kie’s immediate resignation, what more from the ministry of women, family and community development. Why do we have these highly ranked ministers who at best use their position to perpetuate harm?

    The way I see it, our government barely treats Penans as humans, much less Malaysians.

  2. Andrew I says:

    They come up with the most fanciful names for ministerial portfolios.

    Here’s one: Minister of Denial.

  3. mykantree says:

    What is happening to the Penan of Sarawak and the Orang Asli reminds me of the Red Indians of the USA. At the way things are going, they will be many times worst off than how the American Red Indians are today.

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