The government needs to release an official report delivered to Malaysia’s king one year ago on human trafficking camps and mass graves discovered near the border with Thailand in 2015, a human rights group urged on Wednesday.
No Malaysian has been charged in connection with the 139 graves discovered there, although four foreign nationals were convicted and jailed, Fortify Rights said in a statement on its website.
“The Government of Malaysia should immediately release the final report and the recommendations of the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) into the human trafficking and mass graves of Rohingya and Bangladeshis discovered in Wang Kelian of Perlis state in 2015,” said Matthew Smith, CEO of Fortify Rights.
“The RCI was mandated to help bring the perpetrators to justice and that hasn’t happened,” he said, adding, “there have been no changes in policy and not even a formal public reckoning of the crimes committed.”
In neighboring Thailand, prosecutors tried 102 people linked to 32 graves found on its side of the border. Of the 62 convicted, one was a three-star general, who is serving an 82-year sentence.
Arifin Zakaria, a former chief justice of Malaysia who led the RCI, said he did not know why its final report had not been released.
“There was nothing to hide. We recommended for the government to make the report public and I was told they agreed,” he told BenarNews.
“[W]e did not get any instruction or further request from the then-government after the report was handed to the king and later to the cabinet. We have completed our task,” he said, referring to the administration of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
Then-Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced the formation of the RCI in March 2019 amid allegations of a “cover-up.” Arifin suggested asking the current government, which Muhyiddin heads, for information on the report.
BenarNews contacted the Home Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office to ask about the report, but did not hear back. Sept. 16 is a public holiday in Malaysia.
In late May 2015, Malaysian police disclosed that they had unearthed 106 corpses from 139 graves at abandoned human-smuggling camps near Wang Kelian in northern Perlis state.
Earlier that month, officials in Thailand announced that similar graves of smuggled Rohingya Muslims and Bangladeshis were found at an abandoned camp in the jungle on the Thai side of the border.
At the time, Malaysian authorities arrested 12 police officers along with several foreign nationals on human trafficking and other charges, but the officers and most of the foreigners were released due to what officials at the time described as a lack of evidence.
Two Myanmar nationals, a Bangladeshi and a Thai were tried, convicted and given sentences ranging from three to ten years in prison.
Mahathir’s government formed the RCI in February 2019, nearly four years after the camps were discovered, and gave its members six months to submit a final report and recommendations.
The probe was launched after the New Straits Times, a Malaysian outlet, published an investigative report alleging that Malaysian authorities had known about the graves and camps months before police publicly revealed the grim discovery.
In its report, NST claimed it found a “massive, coordinated cover-up” by Malaysian law enforcement authorities near the border, saying a team of investigative journalists had pored over scores of official documents, checked reams of reports and sought out witnesses during the past two years.
The six-member inquiry panel called 48 witnesses, including police and Rohingya survivors, during a 17-day hearing in Kuala Lumpur.
Arifin called the process challenging because of keen public interest in the case.
“Not only that, but it was also of international interest too as it involved other countries. It was quite tough for us,” he told BenarNews on Wednesday.
‘Truth, justice and accountability’
In urging the report’s release, Smith said it was about “truth, justice, and accountability.”
Fortify Rights noted Malaysia’s low ranking in the most recent U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which gauges how countries worldwide are performing in combating human trafficking. Malaysia was ranked in May as a Tier-2 Watchlist country, the report’s second lowest ranking, over inaction on the Wang Kelian graves.
“The Malaysian government should fulfill the right to the truth of the Wang Kelian survivors, victims and their relatives under international law and provide them and the general public with the RCI’s full report so they can assess it for themselves,” Fortify Rights said.
Between 2012 and 2015, transnational criminal syndicates trafficked at least 170,000 people to Malaysia, mostly Rohingya from Myanmar and Bangladesh, generating an estimated U.S. $50 million to $100 million (206.5 million to 413 million ringgit) annually, it said.
The group’s call echoes those made by Malaysian human rights groups and lawyers.
Sevan Doraisamy, executive director of the rights group Suara Rakyat Malaysia, said the report needs to be released.
“It should be made public, but the government’s failure to publish it until now clearly raises many questions,” he told BenarNews on Wednesday.
Nisha David in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.