Bruno Manser has been missing for ten years
10 years after the disappearance of Bruno Manser in the jungles of the Malaysian state of Sarawak on Borneo, a number of speakers from politics, science and culture have commemorated the charismatic Swiss rainforest advocate Bruno Manser on the occasion of a recently held commemoration in Basel, Switzerland. The commemoration was attended by close to 500 persons and included as speakers inter alia the Malaysian land rights lawyer cum politician, Baru Bian, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Working Group I Co-Chair (IPCC), Professor Thomas Stocker, the mayor of Basel, Guy Morin, and Bruno Manser's sister, Monika Niederberger-Manser.
Guy Morin, the mayor of the city of Basel, lauded Manser's struggle against corruption, poverty and for the rights of Sarawak's indigenous peoples. Morin said that politics was in need of individuals like Bruno Manser who used all their energy and determination to forward the conservation of the natural environment. Thomas Stocker from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stressed the importance of the conservation of tropical forests and said that an approximate 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions were caused by the destruction of tropical forests.
Monika Niederberger-Manser recalled her brother's great respect for nature and his strong awareness of the environment as the base of all human existence. Saskia Ozinga from the European forest lobby FERN said that Bruno Manser continued to be an inspiration for the NGO movement and that the recent legal victories and the promise of a changing political situation in Sarawak were hopeful.
Sarawak lawyer Baru Bian, whose law firm has won several landmark court cases over native rights, said that Bruno Manser's name had become "synonymous with courage, boldness and perseverance in the fight against oppression and injustice of the marginalized in Sarawak." According to Baru Bian, "the name 'Bruno' echoed trouble and problem to the State Government of Sarawak and her servants and agents, but it was a beautiful and sweet name in the ears of those who knew him as the person who came to live among them and helped them to find ways to tackle their problems." He said that Bruno Manser, although a foreigner to the native communities, "chose to understand them, their life, culture and problems and eventually gave his life for his friends in Sarawak".
Bruno Manser's fate remains unclear
Bruno Manser was last seen on 25 May 2000 in the jungles of Borneo in the East Malaysian state of Sarawak where he was on the way to his Penan friends in Sarawak's Upper Limbang river area. Despite several search expeditions, Manser's fate remains unclear. Many of his friends and his family suspect foul play. In March 2005, a Swiss court declared him missing.
Bruno Manser (1954-2000) travelled first to Sarawak in 1984 where he spent six years in the jungle with the Eastern Penan, South-East Asia's last nomadic hunter-gatherers. Manser documented the Penan culture in his carefully illustrated, posthumously published diaries from the rainforest. Bruno Manser had a key role in encouraging the Penan's resistance against logging companies, which were at the time starting to encroach into Sarawak's interior.
After his return to Europe in 1990, Manser set up the Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) and continued to champion the Penan's cause incessantly until his disappearal in May 2000. Among his most spectacular actions were a sixty-day hunger strike in front of the Swiss Parliament House in Berne, a parachute jump to the Malaysian UN representation in Geneva and a flight with a motorised hang glider to the residence of Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud in Kuching.
For the Malaysian government and the country's logging industry, Manser was a nuisance but also a convenient scapegoat. In March 1992, weeks after the arrest of dozens of Penan and other natives who had peacefully protested against the logging of their lands, the then Malaysian Prime Minister Mohammad Mahathir sent a letter to Manser, saying that he would have to take the blame "if any Penan or policeman gets killed or wounded in the course of restoring law and order in Sarawak".
Despite such accusations, Manser, who strongly believed in the good-naturedness of all human beings, continued to approach the Malaysian authorities. In 1993, he sent a hitherto unknown letter to Sarawak Chief Mininster Taib Mahmud, in which he offered his cooperation: "I have the vision to work with you and the Sarawak Government, if you are also interested to help protect some of the most valuable resources of the country for the benefit of the local populations." Manser's letter to Taib remained unanswered. The destruction of Sarawak's unique rainforest habitat has continued ever since.
(25 May 2010)