Bar Council demands RCI on migrant mass graves

File picture shows a policeman holding his gun at abandoned human trafficking camp in the jungle close the Thailand border at Bukit Wang Kelian in northern Malaysia May 26, 2015. — Reuters pic
File picture shows a policeman holding his gun at abandoned human trafficking camp in the jungle close the Thailand border at Bukit Wang Kelian in northern Malaysia May 26, 2015. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, May 28 — The Bar Council called today for a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) to investigate the mass graves and people-smuggling camps in Perlis, saying that the government cannot disclaim responsibility.

Malaysian Bar president Steven Thiru said it was “perplexing” that the Malaysian authorities had failed to detect the camps that were reported to have been there for five years, adding the RCI must immediately investigate claims of complicity by enforcement agencies.

“It is inconceivable that an extremely sensitive area such as our international border with Thailand could have been left so unpatrolled and unmonitored, as to permit these ‘death camps’ to have been set up,” Steven said in a statement.

“Moreover, the circumstances in which our law enforcement agencies in charge of border protection were unable to detect the existence of these “death camps” have to be investigated,” he added.

Malaysian authorities are currently investigating the possibility that some among them are in cahoots with the human traffickers responsible for the death camps.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said on Tuesday initial investigations found that Malaysian enforcement officers had collaborated with traffickers with international links spanning Thailand, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Deputy Home Minister Datuk Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar told reporters earlier today that the authorities believe that 139 people were buried in the graves near the Thai border, with one grave containing one corpse, after Putrajaya previously said 139 graves had been found in suspected human trafficking camps.

Steven said while it was commendable that the authorities have made arrests in relation to the death camps, only an RCI can address Malaysia’s human trafficking problem holistically.

“ We commend the Malaysian government for the arrests of 12 police officers for alleged involvement in human trafficking, but this can only be the tip of a very large iceberg.

“However, a purely internal inquiry will be insufficient, hence the need for a comprehensive RCI. Further, as current mechanisms — such as the Enforcement Agencies Integrity Commission — have failed to provide sufficient oversight, new and more directly-focused systems must be implemented,” said the head of the professional legal body.

Steven said the RCI must look into the way in which different forms of people movement, commonly referred to as “mixed migration”, occurs in Malaysia.

The panel, which must also comprise representatives from civil society groups, should investigate the flow of foreign migrant workers, undocumented migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, and victims of trafficking into Malaysia, he said.

Questions relating to appropriate laws for oversight of regular flows of migrants, interdiction of irregular flows, protection for refugees, asylum seekers and victims of trafficking and prosecution of offenders must also be tackled, he added.

The US State Department downgraded Malaysia to Tier 3 last year in its annual report on human trafficking for its poor efforts in combating people smuggling, the worst ranking that was also applied to countries like North Korea and Thailand.