A reminder: The rape of the Penan girls- Justice delayed is justice denied

My article about the rape of the girls from the Penan community, was written eight (8) years ago, and published in Malaysiakini. 

I reproduce the article (see below) in full, because of a report I read today, 16 September 2017, that the police have found the culprits who torched the tahfiz school.

I am disappointed that across the South China Sea, in Sarawak, the police response all those years ago, was not forthcoming. There is more that I am displeased with….but read this article first…

The rape of the Penan girls: Justice delayed is justice denied

I refer to the Malaysiakini report Police under fire for inertia over Penan rape . So it seems that this is the end of the road for the Penans.

They have been kicked out of their own ancestral lands, their women forced into submission, their testimonies kicked into the gutter and now after all the exposure, revelations, shame and guilt, the whole community is now condemned into oblivion.

Shame on us for thinking that they ought to give up now. And shame on you for not voicing your disgust (if you have not already done so) by speaking to your member of Parliament or community leader or religious head or local paper to highlight this injustice.

And I wonder how those in positions of authority and who have the power to help can sleep easy and go about with a clear conscience.

Would these people have the same complacency and accept without question all the excuses if the women in their community, race or clan had gone through the same experience?

Would you?

Some of you might be forgiven if you missed the few inches of column in a national paper that screamed out for attention, ‘Investigations into sexual abuse of the Penans reach dead end’.

And if you had, I bet most of you shrugged your shoulders, flicked to another page and thought, ‘Huh. We knew that. We’ve always known that so why wait one year to be told that? Why waste taxpayers’ money on this investigation?’

Why care?

So, should we be bothered? Should we care? Should we even be moved?

We, who read the papers in our cosy sitting rooms or in the air-conditioned comfort of Starbuck’s, might think – ‘Who are the Penans anyway? They are only an obscure indigenous group living in the Sarawak jungles; who refuse to be tamed into submission; who reject all manner of coercion by the Sarawak government to live in a settlement; who decline to discard their way of life and traditions; who repel all advances for modernisation and have to be forcibly dragged into the twenty-first century.’

One year ago, the rape of the Penan girls was highlighted by the Bruno-Manser Foundation, and picked up by various NGOs and reporters in Malaysia.

An investigation by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry managed to uncover the terrible extent of these rapes. Some of the senior civil servants were visibly moved when they took the statements of the victims.

On the other hand, the police have been unsuccessful in their own investigations and to date, no one has been arrested, charged or prosecuted. Such is the magnitude of their ‘detailed and broad investigations’ that it has prompted the Deputy Inspector-General of Police Ismail Omar to issue a statement to say that the police cconsidered the matter closed.

Maybe the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry could pass on some tips for successful police detective work and interrogation techniques. But it is highly probable, as we are led to believe, that this ministry was manipulated by the NGOs and the Penans. This ministry was foolishly duped during the questioning.

They wasted time by gathering reams of evidence and photographs, which apparently took several months to compile, complete with transcripts and detailed medical evidence, et cetera.

How could they be naïve and fall prey to the histrionics of these deceiving girls? They then reported to the whole nation that the rapes did occur. All this has damaged public relations and dented Malaysia’s image around the world.

Naturally, the police ‘had done all they could’. What more could they do? They lacked evidence and cooperation from the alleged victims and from the NGOs.

And of course, DNA technology has not yet reached the distant shores of Sarawak. Moreover, if it has, it is too expensive and should not be spent on these people, but only spent on proving the innocence of our politicians or their supporters.

Workers in the timber industry operate deep in the jungles and use very expensive equipment. They live in camps, work in shifts and their movements are logged in detail.

So, maybe we must assume that these records, in this highly regulated industry have a very short shelf life? That in itself is most unusual unless they were got rid off in a hurry. Thus, it is perplexing that the police have no access to them. Cannot or will not?

As we are good and loyal Malaysians, we must believe our beloved police and political masters. The Sarawak jungles are vast and the police have limited resources.

Petrol for the boats to go up river in search of these communities is in short supply. Sarawak is not good for much, except for producing vast amounts of timber, petroleum and liquified petroleum gas (LPG). Anyway, this much prized export commodity should only be used for transporting politicians in helicopters and speedboats, during times of electioneering.

And the timber companies, whose personnel are the alleged rapists, have even offered transport and other conveniences to the police. These are not the actions of a guilty party, are they?

The Penans should not misconstrue the motives of the police when they are given assistance by the alleged conspirators, should they? Accepting aid from the alleged perpetrators should not be viewed as complicity should it? After all, these companies should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, right? And neither can we trust the army or rangers to provide the transport so crucial in this investigations, can we?

And naturally, the timber barons and political dynasties would have offered no resistance to the authorities in solving this problem. Timber is big business and is protected by the long arm of the law and the deep pockets of big individuals or their cohorts. Their reputations must not be allowed to be tarnished, should they?

It is imperative we believe the diktat when they say it is the fault of the Penans for disappearing and for the NGOs to be so uncooperative.

As the Penans mistrust the police, we, however, cannot depend on the missionaries to be called upon to engage with the Penans, because these missionaries will then try to convert these people.

On top of everything, didn’t one of the ‘victims’ say she was forced into saying she was raped. So, it must be true and this one statement should be enough to implicate the rest for being liars.

But then, one wonders what a few thousand ringgits can do to enhance one’s way of living (unlike in my home-state of Perak where a few million will suffice). If waving the ‘carrot’ is not good enough, one only has to suggest that Sarawak is such a vast place that people can disappear without a trace.

What justice?

Statements have been recorded, photographs taken and other evidence gathered. All of these will now be consigned to the bin. Of course, form the outset, this sorry tale could have done with a little crucial detective work.

It would be long and tedious but it is possible to investigate by backtracking, using all the available information that the ministry has painstakingly gathered.

There is additional evidence in staff and operational movements as companies would have to detail these whenever and wherever they operate in a particular jungle location. Moreover, there is always someone who will brag or boast or who knows something and has a guilty conscience, and will eventually talk.

The question of mistrust is understandable, but should not be a factor to hinder further investigation. The Penans have tried to highlight their plight but several obstacles seem to stop them from getting justice.

It would be regrettable if the Penans lose complete interest in being integrated into mainstream society by our callous actions. Maybe the next time one of their own is violated, they might just take the law of the jungle into their own hands.

And that would be a shame for the Penans who are a wonderful people with a rich culture and tradition and make up the rich fabric of what we call, Malaysia. Sadly, if this were to happen, it is because we looked the other way and did not search our conscience hard and deep enough, preferring instead to do nothing.

Any crime, especially one as heinous as this, against any individual, whatever their race, religion or creed, should be fully investigated. Justice delayed is justice denied.

Rebuilding Malaysia

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