12 March, 2010

Rosmah 'actively champion womens' issues and advocate womens' rights and interests' ?

THE Penan girls who were raped can be considered collateral damage for the Sarawak government and its state-sanctioned timber companies. The illegitimate children and the exploited Penan community are mere side-effects in the push for progress.

It is no longer about the Penan girls and the timber workers who raped them. Actually, it is about the rape of our system of administration of justice.

- Mariam Mokhtar

Recently, three Sarawak women activists handed a petition to the prime minister's wife in an attempt to engage her support in bringing justice to the Penans.

This unprecedented action of approaching Rosmah Mansor during a state banquet will undoubtedly raise questions of breaches of security during these official functions. Might heads roll because of an unguarded moment by protection officers, when three 'concerned individuals' successfully presented a letter and a sheaf of documents to Rosmah?

Surely, what is more important is whether these activists manage to rekindle the questions of breaches of trust between the Penans and the Sarawak government, for its failure to bring justice to the raped Penan girls.

Others failed to speak up

Ironically, Rosmah was seated beside Empiang Jabu, the wife of the state deputy chief minister, Alfred Jabu. His callous remarks arrogantly described the Penans as 'good storytellers' and that the reports 'generated' were 'lies'.

And as if to increase the poignant agony of the Sarawak detractors, Rosmah was flanked on her right by Fatimah Abdullah, Assistant Minister in the Chief Minister's Department, who like the rest of the well-oiled government machinery, also spectacularly failed to speak up for the Penans.

Official photos deftly captured the stunned and shocked expressions of these two women, on either side of the PM's wife, as the three activists from the Malay, Chinese and Iban communities, appealed to Rosmah's motherly and caring instincts to help the Penans.

Thus far, the official line has been to deny that the loggers sexually exploited the Penans. Instead, the Penans have been victims of a smear campaign and depicted as primitive and promiscuous liars, who are not willing to embrace logging as a form of development.

In a BBC Radio 4 interview on the flagship Today programme, Sarawak's Minister of Land Development, Dr James Masing, replied, "I think this is where we get confused. I think... the Penan are a most interesting group of people and they operate on different social etiquette as us... a lot this sex by consensual sex."

Undaunted, the BBC correspondent Angus Stickler related how Mary, a young Penan teenager, had been dragged from her room, was beaten unconscious and raped after she had hitched a ride to school on a logging truck, how she and some other girls became pregnant as a consequence and that the federal government task force had confirmed that 10-year-old girls had been raped by loggers.

Incredibly James Masing told the BBC, "They change their stories, and when they feel like it. That's why I say Penan are very good storytellers."

The findings of the Task Force from the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development Task Force, confirmed that rape and other types of sexual exploitation had taken place. The full report of over a hundred pages is a heart wrenching portrayal of the suffering of this marginalised community. It took 8 months to compile and more months before being made public.

If the roads that are built by the timber companies are supposed to bring the Penans development, then these same roads transport the evil people who destroy their livelihood and who cruelly snatch away the innocence of their children.

Loggers searching for girls

The Penan people, known for their respect of the land and who live off it by hunting, tragically find that progress reverses the roles of the hunter and prey; they end up being hunted by these loggers, who raid their villages in search of girls.

In January 2009, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Musa Hassan promised to give his full backing to the joint Police-NGO
 investigation into the allegations of rape by those employed in the Sarawak logging industry. But today, both the police and government have announced that they lack the capacity and funds to conduct proper investigations, and that the case is closed....more

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