Human rights NGO says Malaysia as chair of Asean must set up an independent, international commission of inquiry to investigate all aspects of this tragedy.
June 3, 2015 | By Ambiga Sreenevasan
The stark reality and seriousness of the trafficking of migrants and refugees was brought home to all Malaysians upon the chilling discovery of the mass graves.
In 2008, a TV channel did an expose on the same issue which was broadcast nationwide. In the same year, civil society organisation Tenaganita, published a book, The Revolving Door, with details of migrant and refugee communities who were trafficked into Malaysia from Myanmar. An elected representative, Charles Santiago, raised the same issues in Parliament in 2008.
The government’s reply was and has consistently been, that the Immigration Department had carried out investigations and found no evidence to prove the allegations.
In 2009, Malaysia was warned by the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Malaysian law enforcement officials were complicit in this syndicated crime.
In 2010, Equal Rights Trust, an independent international organisation published a report titled, Trapped in a Cycle of Flight; Stateless Rohingya in Malaysia also detailing first hand testimonies from Rohingya who were subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention, violence, extortion, human trafficking and forced labour in Malaysia.
As a nation, Malaysia has been privy to the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons report as early as 2005. We have deteriorated in ranking from Tier 2 in 2005 to Tier 3 in 2014. The Trafficking in Persons report is a reliable report and sheds light as to the weaknesses inherent in the system.
Yet Malaysia continues to be in denial until now. Why did we not heed the warnings? What steps did the authorities take to address the complaints? Have we held anyone accountable for our abysmal record on trafficking? It seems a given that our first response to reports of these camps was for our Ministry to deny it.
Tenaganita has made police reports on syndicate activities based on testimonies from migrant and refugee communities highlighting that Malaysians are very much involved in these syndicate activities. The problem has escalated bringing us to this point where we may be staring at some of the worst possible abuses in the history of our country. It must be cause for grave disquiet that this is happening here.
We further note the callous remarks by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim that the trafficking camps may be potential tourist attractions and were “very nice”. These remarks are disrespectful to those who have lost their lives there and show little regard for the sanctity of life and for the unspeakable tragedy that had taken place there. We expect much better from our Ministers.
We cannot remain silent any longer. Malaysians must not tolerate human trafficking in any form while claiming to have been a member of the Human Rights Council and presently a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
All allegations in respect of human trafficking and smuggling ought to be investigated thoroughly, and it will not do for the authorities to brush it aside. We need a special task force and inquiry into border patrols and possible corruption.
Malaysia as the Chair of Asean must show leadership. In this instance however, nothing less than an independent and international commission of inquiry must be set up to investigate all aspects of this terrible tragedy.
Ambiga Sreenevasan is the President of the National Human Rights Society (HAKAM)
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