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Missing environmentalist awarded human rights prize

Manser lived with the Penan tribe in Sarawak for six years. BMF

Swiss environmentalist, Bruno Manser, has been honoured in absentia for his work to save Borneo's rainforests. He disappeared 18 months ago.

Manser’s family were on hand at a ceremony in Bern to hear that he had been awarded the International Society for Human Rights prize for Switzerland.

Interior minister, Ruth Dreifuss, said in a statement the ethnologist and ecologist deserved the distinction because his work was above all dedicated to helping people.

Manser spent six years in Malaysia’s Sarawak province, where he lived with the Penan, a tribe that inhabits the rainforests of Borneo.

His campaign against the timber trade embarrassed the Malaysian government and earned him enemies among logging companies and other vested interests in Sarawak.

A Swiss journalist, Till Lincke, who has been scouring the Malaysian jungle trying to find out what happened to Manser, has said that he believes the activist was killed.

In May, Manser’s family and friends held a remembrance service to mark the first anniversary of his disappearance.

Speakers at the meeting made an effort to talk about him in the present tense. But it was clear that many had given up hope that he was still alive. His last known communication was a letter to a Swiss friend dated May 23, 2000.

At the remembrance meeting, Dreifuss praised Manser’s radicalism that “willingly displayed an incomprehension of the usual political rules of play.” Manser’s activism had reinforced the ideas that the survival of humanity and of nature was “identical”, Dreifuss said.

Manser’s supporters have accused the Swiss government of being hypocritical in its dealings with Malaysia over Manser’s disappearance. Organisers of the May meeting said that, although the authorities had done their utmost in the search for Manser, Switzerland’s position was ambivalent on the broader issues involved.

Switzerland has not ratified Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on the protection of indigenous peoples, which could be invoked against the trade in tropical timber.

swissinfo with agencies

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