US human trafficking report a farce, says Santiago

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Source: FMT News

PETALING JAYA: A DAP MP has criticised the United States’ Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report following Malaysia’s improved rating for the second consecutive year although no significant action has been taken since the discovery of human trafficking camps and mass graves near the Malaysia-Thailand border two years ago.

In the recently released 2017 TIP report, Malaysia was upgraded from the Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 2.

Last year, Malaysia was upgraded to the Tier 2 Watch List from Tier 3, at a time when the US was pushing the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) that would have included Malaysia and 10 other countries.

Speaking to FMT, Charles Santiago said the TIP report has become a farce driven by political objectives.

He said it was a “major disservice” to the fight against human trafficking.

“It has been two years since the discovery of the migrant camps and mass graves in Wang Kelian in Perlis, yet no Malaysian nationals have been convicted and the report acknowledges this,” added the Klang MP.

Santiago was referring to the discovery of a jungle camp used by human traffickers where the graves of 139 victims, believed to be ethnic Rohingyas from Myanmar, were found near Wang Kelian.

The 2017 TIP report noted that the discovery “fuelled” reports that corrupt officials facilitated migrant smuggling, yet no Malaysian nationals had been convicted for the crime.

Then, locals told the media that they were used to seeing “starving” migrants in the area.

Following the discovery, 12 policemen were arrested for their alleged involvement in human trafficking but were later released due to a lack of “strong evidence”.

“The TIP report acknowledges how law enforcement officials have been complicit in human trafficking activities and how such officials have hampered anti-trafficking efforts, yet the US saw it fit to upgrade Malaysia to Tier 2.

“The basis for Malaysia’s upgrade clearly lacks credibility. I can understand if the government has done something significant about the Wang Kelian incident.

“It was the biggest discovery of mass graves in the country in recent years yet not one Malaysian enforcement personnel has been brought to court.”

Santiago said the US’ “glossing over” of human trafficking in Malaysia showed it wanted to please Putrajaya.

He also cited Malaysia’s upgrade in the 2016 TIP report, saying it was then clearly politically motivated due to the TPPA being promoted by the Barack Obama administration.

Lower standards

“Malaysia couldn’t be a part of the TPPA if it was still on Tier 3, so we can see how it was politically motivated.

“Now under the administration of US President Donald Trump, it appears as though the US just isn’t as committed to combatting human trafficking like before because the standards have dropped and this unfortunately sends out the wrong message to governments.”

Santiago said with lower standards, governments like that of Malaysia which had not done enough to eliminate human trafficking might feel they have done enough.

“If you look at the 2017 TIP report, you’ll see that it notes the government’s conviction of 17 employers for the ‘unauthorised retention of passports’ compared to zero during the previous years,” he said.

He said though there were no statistics on the number of foreigners who were not allowed to keep their passports, the conviction of the 17 was likely just a “drop in the ocean”.

This could be proven by “going to the ground” to ask foreign workers if they were allowed to hold onto their passports, he added.

The US State Department, which produced the TIP report, noted that the majority of trafficking victims were among the documented and undocumented migrant workers in the country.

Many migrant workers from Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Nepal, India and Myanmar seek better economic opportunities in Malaysia. There are also large numbers of Rohingya refugees in the country.

According to the Human Resources Ministry, there are some two million registered migrant workers in the country, while the Malaysian Employers Federation estimates there are six million legal and illegal foreign workers.

“Migrant workers must be allowed to hold their passports. If not, it is forced labour.

“Anecdotal examples like the conviction of the 17 employers cannot be used to justify Malaysia’s upgrade when there are glaring examples on how we’ve failed to tackle human trafficking.

“The US should just suspend the TIP report unless it is really serious about combatting human trafficking or else the TIP report will only lead to lower standards and make the problem worse.”

Recently, on the anniversary of the Wang Kelian incident, human rights organisation Tenaganita asked the government to specify what action had been taken against the alleged perpetrators.

“There seems to be no transparency on the arrests, investigations and prosecutions.

“We know a few foreign nationals were charged for their involvement in the trafficking of the victims,” said Tenaganita executive director Glorene Das, but she questioned why no one in authority had been held accountable over the incident.