Death of Rain Forest Defender BRUNO MANSER Declared
BASEL/Switzerland.10.March 2005 - Today Bruno Manser was declared officially as "presumed dead" by a court in Switzerland.
Almost exactly five years after his disappearance without a trace into the last jungles of Sarawak on the island of Borneo in South-East Asia, the civil court of the Swiss town of Basel finalized its findings concerning an official request filed by the family of Bruno Manser to establish the fate of Bruno Manser as a missing person. The case had been introduced by the presiding judge Stephan Wullschleger in December 2003. The court concluded today that the environmentalist from Basel does "most probably" not live any more. An exact reasoning is however still pending.
For the introduction of the request for an investigation concerning a missing person at the court of guardianship of Basel City the legal counsel of Manser, Mr. Kaspar Mueller, had engaged the lawyer Patrick Wamister of Basel. After their statements and the study of the documents the presiding judge explained on 11 December 2003:
"The substantial and extraordinary interest from the side of the Malaysian government and the timber companies to silence Bruno Manser is clearly documented and beyond any doubt."
The court from then onwards tried for a whole year with public calls in the Swiss and Malaysian media to obtain proof, which could conclusively provide evidence that Bruno Manser still lives. Already in 2001 the investigation department of the canton police in Basel city had placed an announcement concerning Bruno Manser as a missing person on the Internet. The Swiss media service OnlineReports ( http://www.onlinereports.ch ) furthermore has informations which show that the Swiss Commander of Police at that time, Markus Mohler, had requested the assistance of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) through the US embassy in Berne. Despite all official and private efforts – e.g. half a dozen search expeditions in Sarawak -, no new clues could be found until today concerning the fate of the environmentalist, who was born in 1954 in Basel.
The civil court by this ruling now sets an end to the legal uncertainty in respect to Bruno Manser as a missing person. A deeply moved Kaspar Mueller told on-line report: "the court has established the validity of our request: Bruno was today officially declared as presumed dead with effect from 25 May 2000." This allows now also other legal tussles to be concluded.
The question remains, however, whether Bruno Manser had an accident or was killed. For the Basler journalists and on-line reporter Ruedi Suter, who works on a comprehensive biography of the defender of the Penan, there are still all three scenarios possible: "I can turn it around as many times as I want - there are indications for all three possibilities. If I would have to speculate at the present time, I would call the accident version the most unlikely one."
The last sign of life from Manser is a letter dated 23 May 2000 to his Swiss girl-friend. The letter, which closed with a small drawing of a man, who puts out his tongue and thumbs his nose - thereby presumably indicating an intend to fool somebody or a success in having lead someone up the garden-path - was written in Sarawak in the proximity of the village of Bario at the border to Kalimantan. Manser was there briefly after he had once again illegally crossed the border and gone into Penanland to visit and stand by his nomadic friends.
The professionally trained herdsman and long-term medical student at the University of Basel lived from 1984 to 1990 with the Penan forest nomads, learned and taught their language, documented their life and finally started the resistance of the Penan against the intruding timber companies.
Hunted already earlier as "enemy of the state No. 1" in Sawarak, the sturdy Swiss had set Malaysia and its timber industries in the years between 1990 and 1999 with globally recognized and stunning actions, supported by many large environmental and human right groups from Europe, Japan and North America, under enormous international pressure. In Switzerland he called already in 1993 with his 60-day hunger strike for the need to have the true origin of all imported timber declared. The Swiss Upper House and the Parliament still have not followed that request. Just today again two motions concerning this burning issue were submitted by Remo Gysin (Socialist Party) and Maya Graf (Green Party) at the national council.
For his political commitment, Bruno Manser - the extremely versatile critic of the technical civilization - was honoured with numerous prices. His experiences with the Penan are explained and documented in Manser’s book "Tagebuecher aus dem Regenwald" (Diaries From the Rain Forest), published by the Swiss Publishing House Christoph Merian, Basel. In autumn 2005 his biography "Bruno Manser - Die Stimme des Waldes (BM - The voice of the Forest), written by the swiss journalist Ruedi Suter will be published by the publishing house Zytglogge, Bern.
The engagement and commitment of Bruno Manser in favor of the indigenous people of the tropical forests continues with the work of the Bruno Manser Fund ( BMF ), who resides in Basel ( http://www.bmf.ch ). The most important project is at present time the support of the Penan with a "Community Mapping" project, whereby especially trained Penan teams map their homeland and traditional use areas in the forest. The resulting maps serve i.a. as basis and evidence for various land right cases pending before the local courts.
If Bruno Manser should actually be dead, the world would have lost one of the most reliable fighters for the preservation of the foundations of life.
Special Thank to Mr. Bruno Family and Bruno himself.