NGOs response to reports of rape, sexual abuse and exploitation of Penan girls and women by loggers

In reference to the growing reports of rape, sexual abuse and exploitation of Penan girls and women in Sarawak, the latest of which was highlighted in the Star dated 6 October 2008, we the undersigned NGOs wish to state the following:

Despite the obvious serious nature of these allegations, the Sarawak police have not taken the issues seriously. Sarawak Police Commissioner Datuk Mohammed 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 police report. The situation is worsened by Marudi district police chief Deputy Superintendent Jonathan Jalin who was reported to have said that the police have not found evidence to support the allegations but only a number of “marriages” between the workers and Penan women. The “marriages”, he claimed were between willing parties and were accepted by the Penan elders and that these marriages are of a temporary nature and will end once the workers leave for other logging areas. The police in these instances seemed to have summarily dismissed these serious allegations and have failed to take into account the vulnerability of the Penans especially the women and girls against the logging company and workers.

We also wish to add that in November 1994, the Penans lodged a police report listing 10 instances of abuses committed against their persons, property and lands, including the rape of a 12-year-old girl by Police Field Force personnel  (PFF, now known as General Operation Force). These were quickly dismissed by the police even before an investigation was begun, causing a serious loss of confidence in the ability of the Sarawak police to act professionally.

In 2000, a report was also made to Suhakam but similarly there was no action.

Due to the vulnerability of these girls and women and the communities as a whole, we strongly and urgently call upon the Government and Suhakam to take these allegations seriously and set up a fact finding mission comprising of respected and qualified members who will be able to conduct the fact finding independently, fairly and competently.

We further urge that proper police investigation commences as soon as possible with the Bukit Aman Police heading the investigation as 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 cases.

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