KUALA LUMPUR: The mass graves discovered at Wang Kelian near the Malaysia-Thailand border were dug by a human-trafficking syndicate, according to a report.
The 121-page joint report titled “Sold Like Fish” published by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) and human rights advocacy group Fortify Rights indicate that the graves contained the bodies of trafficked Rohingya and Bangladeshis.
It found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that a human trafficking syndicate had committed these crimes in Malaysia and Thailand from 2012 to 2015.
The report, which focused on the Rohingya, found that there was obstruction of justice when it discovered that Malaysian authorities had destroyed the campsite in Wang Kelian a day after it was found.
It said this had potentially diminished evidence that could have aided police investigations, adding that the four-month delay in exhuming bodies at the site had also hampered forensic specialists from identifying the cause of death.
The report also found that the traffickers had denied the victims access to basic necessities such as food and water, which resulted in their deaths.
It also said that the victims were tortured with pipes, bats, belts, and wire, among others.
It added that the human trafficking trade generated between US$50mil (RM174.5) and US$100mil (RM349mil) annually, as victims were required to pay more than US$2,000 (RM6,800) each to secure their own release.
The Suhakam report found that the human trafficking trials that took place in Thailand had indicated that in some cases, there was direct involvement of Thai government authorities in the trans-national trade of Rohingya refugees.
It added that further investigations were required to determine the extent of responsibility and involvement of Malaysian authorities in the trafficking of these Rohingya and Bangladeshis.
“In the last few years, we interviewed 126 people: survivors, village people, border police, and others. We did that to try to find out the unanswered question of how it happened under our noses.
“The border area, there are so many (government) agencies there,” Suhakam commissioner Jerald Joseph said during a panel discussion at the launch of the report Wednesday (March 27).
Joseph added that it was time for Malaysia to prosecute the people involved in this human trafficking syndicate.
“No way death camps in Malaysian soil can happen without the cooperation of some individuals or officers of that nature.
“There is also no way we can have death camps thriving and surviving in the border security area without some collusion happening,” he said.
However, he added that the report did not find any collusion between the Malaysian authorities and syndicates at the border.
Despite not finding any collusion, Joseph said money was a factor that caused the incident to happen in the first place – that is, there was no way that people could be moved without money being involved.
He also said the enforcement authorities at the border must be held accountable as they were unaware of what was happening in their own backyard.
In May 2015, the police announced the discovery of human-trafficking camps and mass graves in Wang Kelian, Perlis.
However, the issue had come to light earlier thanks to the efforts of then Malay Mail reporter S. Arulldas and his photographer, Sayuti Zainudin, who first visited the site and reported on March 9, 2015. Arulldas recently expressed his frustration for not being recognised for his efforts and also offered to testify at the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) set up to probe the issue.
In early January, the government decided to establish a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) to investigate the existence of human trafficking camps and mass graves.
The seven-member commission is headed by former Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria, with former Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Norian Mai as the deputy chairman.
The other members are former head of prosecution in the Attorney-General’s Chambers Datuk Noorbahri Baharuddin, former head of research in the Attorney-General’s Chambers Datuk Junaidah Abdul Rahman, former Malaysian ambassador to Thailand Datuk Nazirah Hussin, and former deputy chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Dr Tan Seng Giaw.
Also in the commission is Suhakam chairman Tan Sri Razali Ismail.
The joint report by Suhakam and Fortify Rights is intended to support the work of the RCI in its efforts to investigate the human trafficking camps and graves.
Razali said the RCI is expected to complete its report by September.
The joint report by Suhakam and Fortify Rights also recommended the RCI ensure that its work is transparent, and for it to establish the facts and circumstances surrounding the death camps.
It also called for the collected facts to be assessed under Malaysian and international laws.
It added that recommendations should be provided to prevent future violations while also ensuring that recommendations included restitution, compensation and rehabilitation, among others, for the victims.
This story has been amended to clarify S. Arulldas and Sayuti Zainudin's role in uncovering the issue.
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