By Charles Santiago
Malaysian Member of Parliament
The U.S. TIP report elevating Malaysia to Tier 2 is laughable to say the least. And it is obvious that the upgrade is motivated by business and trade interests and one that would allow Malaysia to sign on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).
The upgrade comes amidst recent protest from human rights groups in Asia and the United States, including ranking U.S. Senators and Congressmen. And it comes as Malaysians realize the entrenched nature of trafficking in the country.
A Wall Street Journal report today noted the widespread use of forced labor and employment of people who are trafficked, in plantations and construction sites in Malaysia.
The U.S. upgrade assessment is weak as compared to the conclusions of the UN Special Rapporteur on Malaysia, which noted:
1. Criminalization of irregular migrants and the non-recognition of the status of asylum seekers and refugees “contribute to increasing the social vulnerability of migrants.”
2. Women and girls from South Asia are entering into brokered marriages with older men in Malaysia and subsequently being forced into domestic servitude and forced prostitution.
3. Cases of debt bondage, non-payment of salary, withholding of passports.
4. Trafficking of young foreign women and children for sexual exploitation.
The Malaysian government introduced a recent amendment to the Anti-Trafficking Act of 2007 to allow for the employment of documented refuges and the setting up of a high level agency to manage anti-trafficking efforts.
Securing employment for people who are trafficked is important, smashing trafficking networks is significant. This is not happening.
And we are yet to see how effective the implementation of this amended act would be in combating trafficking.
One hint, however, is the manner in which Malaysia dealt with the discovery of mass graves operated by traffickers.
The government concluded there were no criminal elements leading to the death of Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi migrant workers whose bodies were exhumed out of mass graves.
These efforts cannot be construed as significant by any stretch of our imagination.
All we have seen is a damning news report in a local newspaper end of last month, which said nation’s security personnel and law officers at Malaysian borders are corrupt.
The government linked New Straits Times claimed that evidence of this systemic corruption is found in a “controversial report compiled by the Special Branch,” which is “the result of 10 years of covert, deep-cover surveillance and intelligence gathering by the Special Branch at the nation’s border checkpoints, and at different enforcement agencies throughout the country.”
The broadsheet daily also stated that the personnel of the enforcement agencies “were not only on the take, but many were on the payroll of syndicates dealing with drugs, weapons and even human smuggling.”
Before this report was out, we were shocked by headlines plastered on every major media organization in the world that led with stories about mass graves and trafficking camps in Padang Besar, a small town in Malaysia’s northern region.
Journalists wrote even more explosive reports, narrating eyewitness accounts of local villagers who said they had seen malnourished and diseased Rohingya refugees on the streets begging for food.
They had attended to these people and informed the police officers, who then took them away.
And yet the police say they knew nothing about the camps run by the traffickers until May this year, where 135 remains have been found so far.
The U.S. TIP report has done a huge disservice in fighting trafficking in Malaysia and the world over.
One can only conclude that the TIP 2015 report was designed to promote U.S. trade and geo-political interests. And in my view the report best serves as a toilet paper as from now on no government will take the TIP report seriously.