Malaysia Opens New Probe into Wang Kelian Mass Graves

Hadi Azmi
Kuala Lumpur
190305-MY-trafficking1000.jpg Malaysian forensic team members inspect remains found in an unmarked grave outside Wang Kelian, Malaysia, near the border with Thailand, May 26, 2015.

Malaysia’s new government has reopened an investigation into mass graves of Rohingya and Bangladeshi trafficking victims discovered in the jungle along the Thai border in 2015, because officials determined that people were not satisfied with an earlier probe, the home minister said.

On Tuesday, Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin introduced the seven members of a new Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) tasked with investigating the discovery of the gravesites and human trafficking camps at Wang Kelian, in northern Perlis state.

The commission must conduct a thorough investigation, although nearly four years have passed since the graves were found, the minister told BenarNews.

“Because from the prior investigation, many people were not satisfied,” he said.

The government, which came to power last May, was taking the probe to the highest level so that, in the future, “no one can say that they are not satisfied and question Malaysia’s commitment on human rights,” Muhyiddin said, referring to the commission. “So even though it is late, it is never too late to get to the bottom of this.”

Responding to a question from BenarNews about whether the royal inquiry would focus on complaints about an alleged cover-up in the previous investigation, he said, “We will look into every angle in regard to the mass grave discovery.”

BenarNews contacted former national police chief Khalid Abu Bakar, who headed the police force during the previous investigation, but he declined to comment.

The commission will be led by former Chief Justice Arifin Zakaria and former Inspector-General of Police Norian Mai.

Other members consist of Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) chairman Razali Ismail; former chief prosecutor Noorbahri Baharuddin; Junaidah Abdul Rahman, a former chief researcher at the Attorney General’s Chamber; former Malaysian ambassador to Thailand Nazirah Hussin; and Tan Seng Giaw, former deputy chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.

The members are expected to establish a timeline for the investigation and a list of persons of interest to question. They have been given six months to complete their investigation and file a report to be submitted to the king.

During a press conference on Tuesday, Muhyiddin said the mass graves had attracted the world’s attention because of the countries involved.

“Victims were Rohingya from Myanmar and Bangladesh, while Malaysia and Thailand became the transit point,” he said.

Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (left) presents a Royal Commission of Inquiry appointment letter to former Chief Justice Arifin Zakaria in Putrajaya, Malaysia. March 5, 2019. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]
Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (left) presents a Royal Commission of Inquiry appointment letter to former Chief Justice Arifin Zakaria in Putrajaya, Malaysia. March 5, 2019. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

139 graves

In late May 2015, Malaysian police disclosed that they had unearthed 106 corpses from 139 graves at abandoned human-smuggling camps near Wang Kelian.

Officials arrested 12 police along with several foreign nationals soon after the discovery.

In 2017, then-Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told reporters that the police were released from custody because of a lack of evidence. Four foreigners – two Myanmar nationals, a Bangladeshi and a Thai – were convicted on human trafficking charges and remain jailed.

Also in May 2015, Thai officials announced that similar graves of trafficked Rohingya and Bangladeshis were found at an abandoned camp in the jungle on their side of the border. Since then, the Thai government tried 102 individuals linked to the graves and convicted 62, including a former three-star general.

Muhyiddin said he was aware of public concern about the mass graves, pointing out the Pakatan Harapan coalition government was committed to finding out the truth through a transparent and fair investigation.

“At the regional level, Malaysia is at the forefront of issues pertaining to tackling migrant-smuggling,” he said. “As pioneers in tackling this issue, Malaysia’s action in setting up the RCI proves the government’s determination to resolve the issues regarding the inhumane act.”

In addition to its own investigation, the RCI is tasked with determining how the mass graves affect Malaysia’s image on the global stage involving its human rights record and its bilateral relationships, he said.


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