Following the findings of the National Taskforce Report of September 2009 (Laporan Jawatankuasa Bertindak Peringkat Kebangsaan Bagi Menyiasat Dakwaan Penderaan Seksual Terhadap Wanita Kaum Penan Di Sarawak), which confirmed cases of sexual violence and exploitation of Penan women and girls, a group of non-government organisations set out to investigate further the situation in Sarawak when informed that there were other Penan  women and their families who wanted to share their stories of sexual violence and exploitation.

Furthermore the NGOs were motivated to document new evidence in light ofSarawak state government leaders’ repeated refusals to acknowledge that Penan girls were sexually abused by timber workers and their apparent rejection of the National Taskforce Report findings.

The report entitled A Wider Context of Sexual Exploitation of Penan Women and Girls in Middle and Ulu Baram, Sarawak, Malaysia is the result of a fact-finding mission by the Penan Support Group, FORUM-ASIA and Asian Indigenous Women’s Network (AIWN).

The fact-finding mission visited three (3) Penan communities and one (1) Kenyah community and listened to evidence from a further thirteen (13) Penan communities.

The mission found that women were willing to share their stories, but they did not want to go to the authorities owing to the police’s lackadaisical responses in the past and further obstacles including the lack of identity cards, language barriers and the prohibitive cost of travel.

Seven (7) previously undocumented cases are described in the report.  The cases all point to systematic patterns of violence.  Themes include harassment, abduction, rape, physical assault, emotional abuse, coercion into marriage and desertion upon pregnancy.

The documentation of these cases refutes those who in the past rejected the veracity of the Penan women’s claims.

The purpose of the report is not only to record instances of sexual violence and rape, it is also to contextualise these crimes in the political situation in Middle and Ulu Baram, Sarawak.  This report further confirms that the treatment of the Penan people is intrinsically tied to the wider political situation and demands a political solution.

This wider context within which the sexual violence has taken place includes the systemic undermining of the autonomy and sustainability of the Penan people, which is caused by:

  • the denial of their land rights;
  • the denial of basic citizenship rights for many through a failure to register and issue ID cards;
  • state neglect of their welfare including a failure to guarantee adequate access to basic services such as education and health care; and
  • state failure to provide a supporting environment of the right to redress.

The situation facing Penan communities has been documented previously in various reports over the years.  The impact of logging and ‘land development’ on the Penan communities, their land and their rights was detailed in the NGO report “Not Development, but Theft” in 2000.  The SUHAKAM Report (2007) on Penan in Ulu Belaga highlights the abject poverty in which many Penan communities live and states clearly that the Sarawak state government, as the primary duty bearer, is chiefly responsible to ensure the Penan people’s right to life and standard of living.  The National Taskforce Report (2009), while confirming the allegations of sexual abuse, also makes reference to the poverty the community faces, as well as the lack of access to health care and education among other issues.

The lack of respect and protection afforded to Penan women and girls, as can be seen by their various experiences of sexual violence and exploitation, is tied to the lack of respect and protection shown to the Penan community as a whole.

The report provides recommendations for all sectors of the Malaysian community, including the federal and Sarawak governments, the federal parliament and the Sarawak state assembly, intergovernmental bodies, SUHAKAM, non-government organisations and Bursa Malaysia.  These recommendations aim to support changes resulting in a future where Penan communities have the power to determine the direction and pace of their development, secure in their land and communities and respected for their culture, and above all, enjoy their human rights without discrimination.

For further inquiries, please contact John Liu of SUARAM at +60377843525.

The Anwar Ibrahim Trial: A Discredited Government’s Attempts to Persecute Opponent with Archaic Sodomy Laws

While the trial of Anwar Ibrahim on the charge of sodomy has drawn international concerns about whether he will be given a fair trial, the government-controlled media has today begun their “trial by media” in the same way they did over Sodomy trial #1. They have given headline prominence to the accuser’s allegations in an attempt to besmirch Anwar’s reputation and integrity.

While the trial of Anwar Ibrahim on the charge of sodomy has drawn international concerns about whether he will be given a fair trial, the government-controlled media has today begun their “trial by media” in the same way they did over Sodomy trial #1. They have given headline prominence to the accuser’s allegations in an attempt to besmirch Anwar’s reputation and integrity.

In a repeat of the trial of Anwar 12 years ago on charges of corruption and sodomy, the latest trial bears the characteristic political persecution of the leader of the Opposition who has since the general elections of 2008, posed the biggest challenge to the ruling regime since Independence.

The way the trial has progressed clearly shows that Anwar has been denied a fair trial. Even before the trial began, the prosecution has refused to deliver evidence to the defence which is fundamental to ensuring a fair trial. Consequently, SUARAM does not believe that the current trial of Anwar will be in any manner fair and just.

The focus of the government-controlled media in playing up the testimony of Mohd Saiful at the High Court yesterday is clearly an attempt to discredit and cast doubts in the minds of the public over the morals of the former deputy prime minister.

While issues surrounding the question of a fair trial have drawn national and international concerns, another serious human rights violation surrounding the criminal charge on Anwar is the use of the archaic sodomy law of the country against him. All over the world, including countries in Asia, antiquated laws on sodomy are being abolished. On 2 July 2009, the Delhi High Court delivered a historic judgement to amend a 149-year-old colonial-era law and forthwith decriminalised private consensual sex between adults of the same sex. India became the 127th country to decriminalise homosexuality.

It is a shame that a country like Malaysia, which has in the past chaired the UN Commission on Human Rights and has been a recent member of the UN Human Rights Council, not only continues to maintain such archaic laws criminalising homosexuality but also uses it in a politically-motivated trial to discredit and neutralise a political challenger. The Barisan Nasional government’s continued pursuance of the political trial of Anwar Ibrahim and the farcical manner in which the trial progresses will doubtless discredit Malaysia in the eyes of the international community.

SUARAM strongly urges the government to drop its charges on Anwar and further calls for the abolition of our outdated sodomy laws. SUARAM further calls on the Malaysian media to be responsible in reporting the trial and not make this a parallel “trial by media”.

Released by,

John Liu