Penans still waiting for task force report on allegations of sexual abuse
The parents of young Penan women allegedly abused by logging company employees want to access and view the Penan task force report that the government refuses to make public.
“[The parents] have asked for the task force’s report,” See Chee How, a lawyer assisting the Penan Support Group, told The Nut Graph in a phone interview yesterday.
See, who met Penan community members on the possibility of organising a trip to the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry to view the report, said the community was “very positive” about the idea.
Nick Kelasau, a member of the Penan community, said such a trip would depend on the availability of funds to pay for return travel expenses.
“Parents want to know that the safety of their schoolgoing children is ensured. This is what they hope the government will be able to provide,” Kelasau said in a phone interview.
See added: “They are the most interested persons. They want to know how the state and federal governments are going to address the issue.” He was referring to Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil’s pledge to make the task force’s findings available to “interested parties” only, instead of making the report publicly available.
However, despite Shahrizat’s pledge for limited access to the report, attempts by The Nut Graph to read the report revealed that it is still being kept under wraps.
The Penan Support Group is a coalition of Malaysian non-governmental organisations (NGOs), chaired by Suaram. One of its members, the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), was part of the Penan task force commissioned by former minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen in October 2008.
Ten months have passed since the task force was dispatched to investigate the situation on the ground, and 11 since reports emerged about the sexual violation of Penan women and girls.
“[Disclosure of the report] is long overdue, and this is very irresponsible,” See stressed, adding that it was the government’s duty to publicise the report’s findings.
“They used public funds, and made a big hoo-ha going in. People are eagerly looking at what they are going to do about it,” See added.
Furthermore, NGOs based in Sarawak are still unaware of the report’s findings or its recommendations.
Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS) committee member Ann Teo told the The Nut Graph in an e-mail that SWWS has not been shown a copy of the report.
She was responding to Women’s Development Department (JPW) director-general Datuk Dr Noorul Ainur Mohd Nur, who cited SWWS as one of the organisations the ministry was working with to address the Penan report’s recommendations.
“The JPW is working with Sarawak NGOs, such as SWWS, in a three-phase programme to address issues of sexual harassment and mental development,” Noorul had explained in an interview on 20 Aug. She had said this was an example of “the JPW strategy”.
However, Teo explained that SWWS’s project was conceived on its own initiative after the allegations of rape of Penan women came to light. She stressed that SWWS’s project was not in reaction to the Penan task force’s findings.
“When we read about what was happening, we sprung into action,” said Teo, who is the coordinator of the Empowerment of Rural Girls and Women project, designed as a proactive measure to reach out to all communities in the Baram region.
Teo said SWWS approached the ministry, among others, to fund their project. JPW then agreed to fund SWWS’s initiative in May 2009.
Teo joined the wider call for the ministry to make the Penan task force’s findings public, saying that Shahrizat’s earlier pledge was “not a feasible option”.
“This is because access to the report by community leaders, women, or other stakeholders from civil society in Sarawak will be very limited, due to the distance and costs involved in travelling to Kuala Lumpur,” Teo said.
On the Sarawak police’s decision not to support a joint police-NGO investigation into the allegations of rape of Penan women, Teo said it was evident that the authorities were not taking the matter seriously.
See, who was involved in negotiations with the police for a joint police-NGO investigation into the issue, also expressed disappointment with the state law enforcement’s inaction.