To achieve top tier, stop criminalising trafficking victims, watchdog tells Putrajaya

Shamini said there are still many issues that Putrajaya needs to address when it comes to human trafficking. — Picture by Siow Saw Feng
Shamini said there are still many issues that Putrajaya needs to address when it comes to human trafficking. — Picture by Siow Saw Feng

KUALA LUMPUR, June 28 ― Malaysia should stop treating human trafficking victims as criminals if it wishes to be promoted to the top tier in the United States’ annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, Amnesty International said today.

The human rights watchdog's executive director Shamini Darshini said there are still many issues that Putrajaya needs to address when it comes to human trafficking, despite its status upgrade from Tier 2 Watch List to just Tier 2.

"If Malaysia wishes to achieve Tier 1 status in 2020 as announced by the Prime Minister this afternoon, not treating trafficked victims as criminals would be a good place to start,” she said in a statement, referring to Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

The watchdog said many trafficked victims are held in “horrendous” detention centres, facing death, illness and diseases, and denial of basic rights including water.

It said although Malaysia is primarily a destination country, evidence has suggested it could also be a source or transit country involving Rohingya refugees, Bangladeshis and Indonesians seeking jobs, as well as women and children for sale in the sex trade industry.

Citing the Home Ministry in April, the group said 161 detainees at Immigration detention centres nationwide had died between 2014 and 2016 from various diseases including tuberculosis and HIV, indicating the lack of access to healthcare.

“Malaysia needs to seriously address the gross violations committed in the trafficking industry which includes beefing up its existing legislation to address a range of issues including border corruption and access to basic rights for victims,” she added.

Earlier today, Najib wrote in his blog that Malaysia's collective effort in combating human trafficking locally and regionally was bearing fruit as the country improved its position in the 2017 report.

In this year’s report, the US State Department’s recommendations for Malaysia are mostly similar to last year’s, as it urged Putrajaya to publicly gazette and fully implement the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants (Amendment) Act 2015.

Malaysia was upgraded from the bottom tier, Tier 3, to the Tier 2 Watch List in 2015’s TIP report, but the decision was criticised as an ostensible move to allow Malaysia to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement with the US, as the latter imposes an automatic non-aid and non-trade sanction on countries at the bottom tier.

Malaysia had languished in the Tier 2 Watch List since 2010 before it was downgraded to Tier 3 in 2014.

The report was compiled using information from US embassies, government officials, nongovernmental and international organisations, published reports, news articles, academic studies, research trips to every region of the world, and tip-offs.