KUALA LUMPUR, July 30 — Malaysia needs to set up a royal commission of inquiry (RCI) on human trafficking in response to the country being in the lowest ranking of Tier 3 in the annual US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, DAP MP Kasthuri Patto said today.
Kasthuri noted that Malaysia was previously in the Tier 2 watchlist, but had been downgraded in the 2021 report to Tier 3. In the latest report this year, Malaysia remained at Tier 3.
Kasthuri said such an RCI should monitor how well Malaysia’s equipment are working in catching human trafficking syndicates, as well as action taken against government officials allegedly involved in human trafficking activities.
“A Royal Commission must be set up as a body to scrutinise and monitor the Government’s efforts in fighting trafficking and should consist of men and women whose professional opinions be taken seriously by the Government and acted on instead of an internal movement to counter this age-old trade.
“In addition, the commission should also keep a close tab on prosecution and convictions of enforcement officials implicated in human trafficking in Malaysia as well as the efficiency of the devices, instruments and technologies invested into keeping our borders safe as well as to nab human trafficking syndicates,” she said in a statement today to mark World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.
“As a member of the UN Human Rights Council, it is disastrous that we have dropped a rung to the lowest at a Tier 3. The downgrade must be taken and reacted seriously and not just lip service to pander to the masses,” the Batu Kawan MP added.
Kasthuri, who is also a member of the parliamentary special select committee for international affairs, also highlighted the mass graves of human trafficking victims in Wang Kelian, Perlis.
“Let us never forget the lives of innocent men, women and children, all victims of human trafficking, in the damning discovery of mass graves in Wang Kelian, on Malaysian soil, bordering the south of Thailand. Locals will tell you that it is a “normal occurrence” to encounter traffickers and trafficked victims on an almost daily basis in and around the village. And this went on for years before the gruesome discovery in May 2015. Malaysia was in Tier 2 at that time.
“I call on the Malaysian Government to ditch the defensive attitude and “Government knows best” mindset to ensure we never have to bear witness to a repeat of Wang Kelian ever again,” she added.
Earlier in her statement, Kasthuri said she welcome stiffer penalties and the National Action Plan on Anti-Trafficking in Persons (2021-2025), but said prospects for Malaysia to improve and to be upgraded to the Tier 2 ranking will remain bleak if the matter is not addressed holistically.
In the 2021 annual human trafficking report by the US State Department, this line was included for Malaysia: “Despite ongoing concerns that corruption facilitated trafficking, the government arrested and investigated, but did not prosecute or convict, officials who were allegedly complicit in trafficking-related crimes.”
The 2022 report released on July 19 contained this line regarding Malaysia: “Anti-trafficking investigations declined, and the government did not prosecute or convict government officials allegedly complicit in trafficking crimes.”
Kasthuri said Malaysians must know why such officials were not prosecuted.
“Why were they not prosecuted or convicted? Who is protecting them? Was the decision to not prosecute and convict by the Attorney General?” she had also asked.
She noted that there have been many news reports this year on enforcement officers being investigated for their alleged involvement in trafficking syndicates.
Kasthuri referred to Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin’s July 21 comments claiming that the US State Department’s human trafficking report which placed Malaysia in Tier 3 was not reflective of the government’s efforts to counter human trafficking.
“Perhaps it is time Hamzah took his head out of the sand and take a good hard look at data, statistics and the faces of victims of trafficking and the evil faces of the traffickers — even up to the involvement of officers in his own ministry,” she said.
She also said the government is likely to be part of the problem and not the solution if it has the attitude of “we know best”, noting: “In other words, the Government will enable trafficking to grow if not addressed seriously.”
In the US State Department’s TIP report, Malaysia was on the Tier 2 watch list in 2015 and 2016, and improved to Tier 2 in 2017, before being again in the Tier 2 watch list in 2018 to 2020, and was downgraded to the lowest ranking of Tier 3 in 2021 and remained in this position in 2022. The last time Malaysia was in Tier 3 was in the 2014 report.
Apart from Malaysia, there are 21 others in Tier 3 in the 2022 report, namely Afghanistan, Belarus, Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, China, Cuba, Curaçao, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Iran, Korea, Macau, Nicaragua, Russia, Sint Maarten, South Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Venezuela and Vietnam.
The tier ranking is based on the extent of a government’s efforts to meet the minimum standards of the US law Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) for the elimination of human trafficking.
Tier 1 for example does not mean that a country has no human trafficking problem but shows it has fully met the minimum standards in the US law for the elimination of human trafficking, while Tier 2 is for countries whose governments do not fully meet the minimum standards but are making significant efforts to do so.
Countries on the Tier 2 watch list also do not fully meet the minimum standards and are taking significant efforts to comply but have other issues such as failing to show increased efforts to combat human trafficking and not taking proportional concrete steps when human trafficking victims are significantly increasing.
Those listed in Tier 3 are countries whose governments do not fully meet the minimum standards in the TVPA and are not making significant efforts to do so.