Penan women accuse loggers of sexual abuse

Women from the Penan tribe have accused workers from two Malaysian logging companies of harassing and raping Penan women, including schoolgirls.

‘I want to make it known that we are being sexually abused by the timber company workers on a regular basis’, one woman said.

The Penan live in Sarawak, in the Malaysian part of the island of Borneo. They have spent more than twenty years trying to stop logging companies destroying their forests. The accused loggers work for Samling and Interhill, two of the major companies operating on Penan land.

According to research undertaken by the organisation Bruno Manser Fund, the perpetrators frequent several Penan settlements in the Middle Baram area, looking for women. The company workers are based in logging camps in the region and are usually drunk when they arrive at the villages.

‘When we hear their off-road vehicles coming, we just leave everything as it is and flee into the forest,’ the Penan source said. ‘They come on an almost weekly basis, but the situation is worst during the school holidays when they know the students are in the villages.’

In other cases, school runs operated by logging company vehicles had been arranged so that schoolgirls had to stay overnight at a logging camp, where they were abused.

The Penan communities are reporting several cases of pregnancy as a consequence of abuse by company workers. They also accuse the loggers of using armed ‘gangsters’ to intimidate them and of handing out alcohol to young Penan. Complaints by the Penan to those in charge of the logging camps and to the police have so far had no effect.

The Bruno Manser Fund has asked the Malaysian government to start a formal enquiry into the allegations. In particular, the government is being asked to ensure that the victims are protected and that the harassment of Penan women by company workers is brought to an end immediately.

In a separate development, the Sarawak government recently announced that it would no longer recognise elected Penan leaders in some communities. The move is seen as an attempt to break resistance to logging.

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