Journey of a lifetime

  • Education
  • Sunday, 18 Aug 2019

DSP Sivabalan standing in front of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York.

MY journey over the last 10 months under the Hubert H Humphrey Fellowship programme has been fruitful and excellent. I was on a Fulbright Exchange activity sponsored by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Fellowships are granted competitively to professional candidates around the world who show a commitment to public service in both the public and private sectors. It is a fully-funded scholarship.

I met many interesting individuals from the legal fraternity, law enforcement, anti-human trafficking and anti-migrant smuggling, non-governmental organisations/volunteers and victims of trafficking.

Since the focus of my study is “Trafficking in Persons, Policy, and Prevention”, the Humphrey programme has provided a unique platform for cross exchanges of personal experiences from my country and vice versa. These meetings have created a collective and in-depth understanding of the issues.

I had the privilege of addressing different audiences on several occasions. I took classes on “International Trafficking in Persons” and “Human Rights and Terrorism” at the American University Washington College of Law in Washington DC. These classes had 20 to 40 students. Most had international experience in legal practices.

There was also one-on-one discussions with key personalities like the assistant United States attorney, district court judge, police personnel from the DC Metropolitan Police Department, Maryland State Police, Virginia State Police, Prince George’s County Police, Chicago Police Department, Interpol, congressmen and congresswomen, senators, ambassadors, deputy heads of mission and legislative counsel from various foreign missions. I also spoke at lectures and talks.

In the 2018 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, Malaysia was placed on the Tier 2 Watch List from Tier 2. This raised eyebrows on the country’s seriousness in addressing the matter.

Having low success in the prosecutions of trafficking offenders, and not wholly effective strategy by the government on the integration of victims in the civil society have been some of the key questions raised. As a police officer, I have explained the role of law enforcement in countering human trafficking and the problems we often face on the ground.

I shared my personal experience encountering the victims as well as the many grey areas, which are beyond the jurisdiction of law enforcement. The prosecution, on the other hand, relies on critical evidence to be brought forward to the court of justice.

Some of the common problems that the police personnel face are getting the victims to come forward, providing critical information and also producing crucial witnesses in courts.

In many of these meetings, talks and presentations, I have learned that human trafficking is not a direct issue that can be quickly addressed. It takes lots of patience, collective efforts and the continuity of the process from intelligence build-up, enforcement and prosecutions.

These opportunities have created awareness and networking opportunities that I never had before. I feel that I am obliged to explain to the rest of the world the kind of issues and challenges we face back home in our efforts to combat human trafficking in accordance with the 2000 Palermo Protocol: Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children — the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime and the Protocols.

Despite all the shortcomings, there are continuous efforts to achieve the objective for better policy, legislation and protection of victims of trafficking. Also included in the Humphrey programme is a six-week professional affiliation which provides a valuable opportunity for involvement with our American counterparts in their workplaces.

My Humphrey experiences were not limited to just academics and professional settings only. I participated in several volunteer activities to see the other side of America. Some of these activities included “On My Side Award – The Human Trafficking Legal Centre”; “Dupont Circle House Tour”, “DC Central Kitchen”, “2018 Global Leadership Award, Community College Residency Programme” and “Freedom Network USA Conference 2019”.

My challenge is how I am going to bring these values to the next level since I am back home now. I find volunteering is a big part of the American people, which is truly inspiring.

During these activities, I came across many individuals from different backgrounds. Likewise, they were also receptive towards me.

For this precious opportunity, I wish to express my appreciation to the Public Service Department, Office of the US Embassy in Malaysia, Royal Malaysia Police and the Malaysian-American Commission On Educational Exchange.

Deputy Supt Dr Sivabalan Suppiah is currently serving as a senior police officer. He is an engineer by qualification and has been serving the police since 2004 when he first joined as Cadet Asst Supt. He obtained his PhD in Policing and Security from Charles Sturt University, Australia.

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