A new report has exposed an ‘environment of violence’ against tribeswomen in Borneo. According to the report, released by a coalition of Malaysian human rights groups called the Penan Support Group, there have been repeated cases of rape and sexual assault against Penan women by the loggers who are destroying the tribe’s forests.
They follow allegations by other Penan women in 2008, which the Malaysian government denied but was later forced to confirm.The report condemns the Malaysian government for giving lucrative logging concessions on Penan land to ‘private companies closely tied to the state government’, resulting in ‘dispossession, destruction, dislocation and impoverishment’ and an ‘environment of violence’ which leaves Penan women and girls ‘highly vulnerable’.
The Sarawak state government has licensed the Penan’s land to logging and plantation companies that have devastated the rainforests the tribe rely on.
The Malaysian Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development has refuted the new allegations. The Chief Minister of Sarawak also denied the previous allegations of rape, saying they were ‘lies’ and an attempt at ‘sabotage’. A government investigation later confirmed that the women’s claims were true.
Officials have continued to dismiss the issue. When the BBC confronted Sarawak’s Minister for Land Development with the statement of a teenage Penan rape victim, he said, ‘They change their stories, and when they feel like it. That’s why I say the Penan are very good storytellers.’
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak is due to visit some Penan villages on July 22.