Friday 30 September 2011

Prioritise issue of Penan rape

KUCHING: The opposition whilst welcoming the creation of a new state Women and Family Development Ministry wants the state government to prioritise the Penan issue.

Sarawak DAP has called on Women Minister Fatimah Abdullah to be serious with the issue of rape of Penan women allegedly by timber workers.

Pending assemblywoman Violet Yong said the opposition will be ‘watching’ Fatimah’s performance with ‘keen interest’.

“Reports after reports of rapes have been made over the years, and yet the reports have not been taken seriously by the state government,” she said.

Yong, who is also Sarawak DAP treasurer, was asked to comment on the creation of the new ministry following the announcement of a state cabinet reshuffle by Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud on Wednesday.

Speaking to FMT, Yong said: “One of the tasks of her ministry should be to look into the welfare of the Penan women and girls who have been victims of rapes and abuses by the timber workers.

“These issues are serious, and for many years, I presume many things have been swept under the carpet.
“Despite many reports from various quarters including from the task force set up by the government, so far we have not seen any action taken.

“With this ministry in place, especially if it is headed by a woman minister and supported by another woman assistant minister, the ministry should go deeper into the reported cases and be more sensitive and responsible in order to bring the culprits to book.

“I hope the minister will not sit on her portfolio to please the political master who put her there.

“I hope she will go all out to help and look after the welfare of the people especially those who are poor and the needy and the victimised.

“As opposition members, we are watching her performance with keen interest, and expect results to be out soon.”

Reports of findings

The first known case of Penan rapes was documented by a non-governmental organisation fact finding mission which began in 1995. This was followed up by another report in 1996.

The report of the findings was released in 2000 confirming that rapes did occur in Long Mobui in upper Baram.

Reports were lodged on cases of rapes and sexual abuse by workers of two Malaysian timber companies in middle Baram in 2005, 2007 and 2008
Following these reports, the then Federal Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, Dr Ng Yen Yen announced the formation of a task force to look into the plight of the Penan women and girls who had been raped.

Reports of the finding were released in September 2009, also confirming that rapes and sexual abuse did happen. But so far no one has been charged.

Meanwhile, Fatimah said the setting up of the new ministry showed that the government is putting greater emphasis in assisting the people and in addressing their needs.

“The creation of the ministry is timely as our social environmental changes and the need to focus on social development for social wellness of the people is important,” she said.

A milestone

Fatimah will be assisted by Rosey Yunus (SPDP assemblywoman for Bekenu) and Robert Lawson Chuat (PBB assemblyman for Bukit Saban).

The appointment of Rosey is seen as another milestone in the state cabinet. She is only the second woman to hold a ministerial position in the Sarawak cabinet.

Lawson and Rosey were among seven new assistant ministers appointed to the cabinet by Taib on Wednesday.

Lawson is in charge of welfare while Rosey of Early Childcare Education and Family Development portfolios

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