Suhakam claims authorities destroyed Wang Kelian camp

Suhakam commissioner Francis johen Anak Adam (seated in wheelchair) with other members of the panel pose for a group photo during the launch of Suhakam’s report titled ‘Sold Like Fish: Crimes Against Humanity, Mass Graves, and Human Trafficking from Myanmar and Bangladesh to Malaysia’, in Kuala Lumpur March 27, 2019. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Suhakam commissioner Francis johen Anak Adam (seated in wheelchair) with other members of the panel pose for a group photo during the launch of Suhakam’s report titled ‘Sold Like Fish: Crimes Against Humanity, Mass Graves, and Human Trafficking from Myanmar and Bangladesh to Malaysia’, in Kuala Lumpur March 27, 2019. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

KUALA LUMPUR, March 27 — Malaysian authorities destroyed the Wang Kelian human trafficking camp site just a day after it was discovered, the National Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) alleged today.

Suhakam’s report, titled Sold Like Fish, documented details of what it described as a blatant obstruction of justice, in which the authorities delayed revealing the discovery of the mass graves for up to four months.

Suhakam said its probe found that the police sent its forensic team to exhume the bodies only in May 2015, despite having found the camp site and mass graves in late January, potentially diminishing evidence that could have aided the police investigation.

“The four-month delay in exhuming the bodies delayed post-mortem examinations and, in turn, hampered forensic specialists from identifying the cause of death of exhumed remains,” the commission said in a statement that accompanied the report.

The Sold like Fish report, a joint effort with international human rights group, Fortify Rights, gathered testimonies from around 126 victims, survivors, community heads and officials from relevant enforcement agencies for in an investigation that spanned three years.

Details of official complicity were documented in a ten-paged chapter, that explained how both the Thai and Malaysian authorities worked together with a transnational syndicate that deceived, detain, torture, raped and murdered mostly trafficked Rohingyas.

Enforcement agencies officials that Suhakam and Fortify Rights spoke to alleged a senior police officer ordered the compound destroyed, effectively diminishing potential physical evidence that might have aided police investigation.

The authorities also delayed the exhumation of bodies, despite a forensic team having already confirmed on March 6, 2015, that the suspected site found in Wang Kelian, Perlis, was indeed a mass grave.

The exhumation was only ordered two months after, in May 2015, the report said, noting how it hampered forensic specialists from identifying the causes of death.

“Forensic specialists testified... that their post-mortem examinations of the remains exhumed from the site were inconclusive with regard to the cause of death due to excessive decomposition of the bodies,” Suhakam and Fortify Rights noted.

On the Thai side, testimonies revealed a widespread and systemic pattern of Thai authorities transferring Rohingya refugees from immigration detention centres and state-run shelters to the syndicate.

“Consistent testimony suggests that the practice of selling Rohingya refugees to traffickers en masse took place for several consecutive years,” the report said.

The trade in Rohingya from 2012 to 2015 is estimated to be worth between RM174 to RM349 million annually, according to Suhakam and Fortify Rights.

Testimonies from survivors revealed gruesome details about how syndicates operate. Trafficked victims, held in deplorable conditions of enslavement in remote camps along the Malaysia-Thai border, were extorted to pay up to RM6,800 each for their release.

Traffickers denied their captives access to adequate food, water and space, resulting in deaths, illness, and injury that include paralysis.

The report also documents how perpetrators brutally murdered or tortured the victims, and then dump their bodies in mass graves.

“In some cases, (they) forced captives to bury bodies,” Suhakam said.

The General Operations Force were said to be among the first enforcement agencies that discovered what appeared to be mass grave sites in Wang Kelian in January 20, 2015, more than four months before the authorities announced the discovery.

Suhakam commissioner, Gerald Joseph, said the fact-finding mission had limited ability to establish conclusively as to why there was a delay, but testimonies from various enforcement officials were enough to suggest a cover-up that resulted in justice hindered.

“It caused problems the forensic team that we interviewed said,” Gerald told the audience who attended Suhakam’s briefing of the report.

“Question is why? There should be no reason to delay.”

If anything, testimonies gathered from the various enforcement agencies suggested a serious intelligence gap and a severe lack of co-ordination, Joseph said.

But Suhakam said it could not conclusively say if this pointed to an inter-agency complicity to cover up for each other.

The report’s release comes less than a month after the Pakatan Harapan government said it would establish a Royal Commission of Inquiry to investigate the matter.

Suhakam said it hoped the report, together with the RCI, would help provide answers to many of the unanswered questions, and bring the perpetrators to justice.

The Malaysian authority has yet to charge any enforcement agency officials from the investigation despite repeated claims of corruption and complicity of high-ranking officers.

This is despite the press charges of several high-ranking Thai officials on the other side of the border, including an army general.