Govt-appointed commission: Malaysian officials could have prevented Rohingya deaths

BenarNews staff
Govt-appointed commission: Malaysian officials could have prevented Rohingya deaths A Royal Malaysia Police forensics team handles human remains found in a jungle grave at Bukit Wang Burma in the northern Malaysian state of Perlis, May 26, 2015.
Mohd Rasfan/AFP

Malaysian officials could have prevented the torture and deaths of Rohingya and Bangladeshi trafficking victims whose bodies were found in shallow graves in the jungle along the Thai border in 2015, according to findings by a government-commissioned panel that were only made public recently.

The chairman of the Royal Commission of Inquiry told Malaysian media in early August that the RCI’s 211-page report into the graves, which was completed in 2019, was confidential and subject to the country’s Official Secrets Act, according to a human rights watchdog that drew attention on Tuesday to the report’s recent online publication.

“The torture and deaths of the illegal immigrants should have been prevented by the authorities taking a more proactive step in border control. It did not require any extraordinary effort to detect what had happened in Bukit Wang Burma,” according to an excerpt from the commission’s report.

“The Commission regards the incident at Wang Kelian as a humanitarian tragedy that should never happened in this day and age,” the report went on to say.

Drawing attention to the report, Southeast Asia-based advocacy group Fortify Rights called on Malaysian authorities to go after officials involved in trafficking people to “death camps” in Wang Kelian in northern Perlis state, including those who were criminally negligent in the police investigation.

Malaysian enforcement agencies failed to follow their own standard operating procedures, significantly impacting the quality of their investigation into the situation in Wang Kelian, Fortify Rights said Tuesday, citing from the RCI report.

“The unceremonious appearance of the report online, unbeknownst to key stakeholders in the country, raises questions about the ongoing lack of justice and accountability for Rohingya victims of trafficking,” Matthew Smith, the chief executive officer of Fortify Rights, said in a news release.

“In response to the RCI’s findings, and to give Rohingya victims and their families a measure of justice, the Malaysian government must provide reparations and prosecute officials implicated in the horrendous crimes in Wang Kelian.”

The report, which was expected to be made public in 2020, was released recently, according to Fortify Rights, which said it had obtained copies of English and Malay versions of the document. An English version appeared briefly on the Ministry of Home Affairs’ website before being taken down in early September, the group said. As of early Tuesday, it said a Malay version was available on the website.

In January 2015, Malaysian authorities found 139 mass graves and 28 abandoned camps scattered near the rocky hills along the Thai border at Bukit Wang Burma in Wang Kelian, but waited four months to exhume the bodies.

More than 100 skeletal remains, believed to be those of member of Myanmar’s stateless Rohingya Muslim minority, were found in the graves while other remains apparently belonged to undocumented migrants from Bangladesh.

“The order to hold back issued by the Inspector General of Police at the time caused a delay in the investigation, producing a significant impact on the quality of the overall investigation,” the RCI report said, referring to the four-month delay.

In June 2019, a Malaysian government commission concluded a 17-day hearing after listening to testimony from 48 witnesses and prepared a final report on its findings.

Fortify Rights said that in January 2020, then-Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced the report was to be presented to the cabinet, and if the cabinet agreed to its release, the document would be made public.

More than two years later, in July 2022, Home Affairs Minister Hamzah Zainudin told MPs that the report had been approved more than two years earlier.

According to the report, Khalid Abu Bakar, who was serving as inspector general of police in 2015, ordered the delay in recovering the bodies because he was “unsure as to whether the location of the camps discovered were in Malaysia or Thailand.” 

“The question about whether the trafficking camps were in Malaysian or Thai territory should have prompted an immediate investigation, not a delay,” Fortify Rights said. “As a result of the delay, forensic experts could only establish causes of death for two of the 114 exhumed victims, inhibiting accountability.”

By comparison, Thailand tried 102 suspects on charges related to the bodies of human trafficking victims discovered on its side of the border, convicting 62 people in July 2017. Among those convicted was former Army Lt. Gen. Manas Kongpaen who saw his 27-year sentence tripled to 82 years in October 2019.

Malaysia, meanwhile, has not taken action against officials who mishandled the Wang Kelian case, “displayed negligence in their duties and, more importantly, continued to deny justice to the trafficking victims and their relatives through their actions,” Fortify Rights said.

It pointed to the U.S. State Department keeping Malaysia at the lowest Tier 3 on its annual Trafficking in Persons report released in July. That report said anti-trafficking investigations declined, and the government did not prosecute or convict government officials allegedly complicit in trafficking crimes.

“The fact that Malaysia still hasn’t held any officials accountable is a stain on the nation’s record that must be rectified,” Smith said. “The trafficking of Rohingya to Malaysia was widespread and systematic and demands justice, accountability and reparations for victims and their families.”


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.


Oct 19, 2022 05:03 AM

The current situation of the Rohingyas is mainly responsible for the unpleasant events that are happening to them. Because they have been sheltering in Bangladesh as refugees for a long time. While it is okay to stay as a refugee for a short period of time, it is not possible for an ordinary person to live like this for a long time. They need to solve this problem quickly.