US view on human trafficking in Msia ‘a fair account’
By SHAILA KOSHY
KUALA LUMPUR: The US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report 2009 that downgraded Malaysia to the Tier 3 Watch List is a fair account of Malaysia’s “limited efforts” in trying to stem human trafficking, says a human rights activist.
“It is especially true in relation to labour trafficking, which is a form of slavery.
“Civil society has brought up this problem many times in dialogues with Suhakam (the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia) and the Bar Council,” said Tenaganita director Dr Irene Fernandez.
“We have also had roundtable discussions with the government agencies but nothing has moved,” she said on Wednesday when asked to comment on the 324-page TIP report released in the United States on Tuesday that warned that those on the Watch List might face US sanctions.
Tier 3 countries are those whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.
Listed with Malaysia are Burma (Myanmar), Chad, Cuba, Eritrea, Fiji, Iran, Kuwait, Mauritania, the Republic of Niger, North Korea, Papua New Guinea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Zimbabwe.
The TIP Report states that, as a regional economic leader approaching developed nation status, Malaysia has the resources and government infrastructure to do more to stem the tide of human trafficking.
It adds there were no visible measures taken by the Government to reduce the demand for forced labour or for commercial sex acts.
“For the last 15 years we have cautioned that allowing employers to withhold a workers’ passports opens them to exploitation and bondage but this has not been addressed,” said Fernandez.
She added there was a lack of transparency in investigations, for example, in the sale of refugees along the Thai-Malaysia border.
“The Government is in a state of denial. It should have at least engaged with us since we released the report on the sale of refugees in December but it has not happened,” she said.
Hookers for Singapore
Among the things Malaysia should do to improve its ranking would be to reform the recruiting and employment of migrant workers, better define their contracts and the structure of their employment clearly, said Fernandez.
“We also need to move in line with the standards set by the International Labour Organisation,” she said.
She confirmed the statement in the report that “some Malaysian women, primarily of Chinese ethnicity and from indigenous groups and rural areas, are trafficked abroad” to countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, France and Britain for “commercial sexual exploitation.”
“Yes, we know of Sabahan women who were trafficked to Singapore for commercial sexual exploitation but when we raised it with the Singaporean Government they told us it was not trafficking because prostitution was legalised there.
“There have also been cases of women from the hinterland in Sarawak being taken to the logging camps in the state for sexual exploitation,” she said.
A positive note for Malaysia in the report is the mention of Alice Nah under the section Heroes acting to end modern-day slavery.
Nah, who wrote about the trafficking of Myanmar refugees along the Malaysia-Thailand border, is a founding member of the Migration Working Group, a network of lawyers, academics, and volunteers focused on caring for, protecting and defending the rights of refugees and migrant workers who are especially vulnerable to becoming victims of forced labour.
In the main report and in the country narratives, Malaysia gets quite a lot of mention as a destination country and to a lesser extent as a source and transit country for either commercial sexual exploitation or forced labour (use ‘Malaysia’ as your search keyword).
Among the reasons for the downgrade from the Tier 2 Watch List were that the Malaysian government had:
*NOT fully addressed trafficking in persons issues, especially labour trafficking, although it took initial action under its Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act 2007, against sex trafficking;
*NOT arrested, prosecuted or convicted any immigration officials said to be involved in the trafficking and extorting of Myanmar refugees although the police and Prime Minister had confirmed there were investigations; and
*NOT developed mechanisms to screen effectively victims of trafficking from vulnerable groups.
Malaysia wants explanation
In an immediate response, Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein said Malaysia would get the United States to “explain” why the country has been downgraded, reports MAZWIN NIK ANIS from PUTRAJAYA.
He said officials would be visiting the US Embassy to “get the real picture” on why Malaysia was placed on the list again.
“We want to determine what is the offending act or non-action on our part that warranted Malaysia being blacklisted.
“It is incumbent on us to address the issue because we have a responsibility to the international community as far as human trafficking is concerned.
“In fact, Malaysia, Australia and Britain are exploring the possibility of having a tripartite agreement on human trafficking to show our commitment to dealing with the issue,” he told reporters after chairing his ministry’s post-Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
Last year, the report elevated Malaysia to a “watch list” from the 2007 blacklist after finding that it was “making significant efforts” to comply with standards.
Hishammuddin said while the Government would do “whatever possible” to curb human trafficking, he admitted there were limitations, especially with Malaysia’s “vast borders and long shorelines.”
“Nevertheless, with most agencies involved in this being under my ministry, we will make adjustments to curb the problem. But first, we need to find more from them why we have been blacklisted,” he said.
His deputy, Datuk Wira Abu Seman Yusof, took a stronger stance, saying that Malaysia should not have been put on the list and that the US Government was “unjustified” in doing so.
“We’re denying that Malaysia should be put on the list of human trafficking countries. It is not justifiable,” he told reporters in the Parliament lobby, LOH FOON FONG and LESTER KONG report from KUALA LUMPUR.
Nonetheless, Abu Seman said his ministry would spearhead an inter-ministerial council to deal with human traffickers that use the country as a transit point.
The first Asean Inter-Parliamentary Assembly Caucus chairman Datuk Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar (BN-Santubong) refuted the allegations that government officials were involved in human trafficking.