International probe finds "systematic patterns of violence" behind sexual abuse of native women by Malaysian loggers

Sarawak authorities must act to protect victims and stop colluding with the logging companies

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA. The Penan Support Group, a coalition of 36 Malaysian non-governmental organizations (NGOs), yesterday presented new evidence on the sexual abuse of indigenous girls and women by timber company employees in remote rainforest areas of the East Malaysian state of Sarawak in Borneo. On the occasion of a media conference in the Malaysian parliament, the group released its comprehensive report entitled "A Wider Context of Sexual Exploitation of Penan Women and Girls in Middle and Ulu Baram, Sarawak, Malaysia."

The report presents seven previously undocumented cases of sexual abuse and concludes that "the cases all point to systematic patterns of violence" which include "harassment, abduction, rape, physical assault, emotional abuse, coercion into marriage and desertion upon pregnancy." The fact-finding mission had visited three Eastern Penan communities and one Kenyah community and had listened to evidence from a further thirteen Penan communities." The report is the result of a fact- finding mission to Sarawak's Upper Baram region conducted by the Penan Support Group, FORUM-ASIA and the Asian Indigenous Women's Network (AIWN), which took place in November 2009.

The Penan Support Group urges the Malaysian authorities to act decidedly in order to protect the victims and calls for "a political solution" to prevent further sexual violence by loggers. It states that the wider context of these cases of sexual violence includes the "systemic undermining of the autonomy and sustainability" of the native communities by the state government's logging policies, "the denial of their land rights, the denial of basic citizenship rights" and "the failure to provide a supporting environment for the right of redress."

The mission was organized after the Sarawak police had refused to further investigate a number of sexual abuse cases which were documented by a Malaysian federal government report in September 2009. Sarawak's political leadership had claimed that the cases described by the Federal Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development were not true. Allegations of sexual abuse of Penan girls and women by employees of two timber companies, Samling and Interhill, had first been made public by the Bruno Manser Fund in September 2008. Both companies had denied the allegations.

The report is available for download from the BMF website under the following link: www.bmf.ch/en/news/?show=212

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