Putrajaya lacks the political will to combat the scourge, says Irene Fernandez.
The criticism came in the wake of the US State Department’s release of its latest Trafficking in Persons Watchlist (TIP). Malaysia is listed under TIP’s Tier 2, where it has been for the past three years.
The State Department defines Tier 2 nations as “countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s (Trafficking Victims Protection Act) minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.”
Tenanganita apparently disagrees that Malaysia is making “significant efforts” to meet the TVPA standards.
Its executive director, Irene Fernandez, said in a media statement that Putrajaya lacked the political will to “systematically and holistically combat modern day slavery and human trafficking”.
She said the government was unwilling to build “genuine and collaborative partnerships” with civil society towards eradicating the scourge.
The US report pointed out low rates of prosecution in Malaysia, saying police and immigration officials investigated 97 suspected trafficking cases in 2011 but initiated only 16 prosecutions.
“A total of 231 prosecutions, initiated in previous years, remained ongoing,” the report said. “The share of initiated prosecutions that resulted in acquittals continued to remain high.”
Fernandez questioned the competence of Malaysian prosecutors. “The failure to obtain convictions is cause for great concern,” she said. “Prosecutors do not seem to have increased their competence in successfully prosecuting traffickers.”
She also criticised Malaysia’s Anti -Trafficking in Persons Act (ATIP) 2007, saying it was not “victim centred”.
“The framework for investigations is purely focused on the criminal aspects of the case, while the trafficking survivors’ rights and needs are given little priority,” she said.
She said the rights of victims would be better assured if the government were to allow NGOs to do the monitoring at government-run shelters.
Fernandez also criticised the government’s use of the Internal Security Act to detain suspected human traffickers, saying the refusal to charge them in open court under ATIP raised questions about the state’s motives.
“Is the ISA being used as a means to show that Malaysia is tough on trafficking, without actually carrying out proper investigations, being transparent in prosecutions and arresting actual traffickers?” she asked.
“What has the Home Ministry to hide in relation to human trafficking and who are they trying to protect?”