MALAYSIA: Rights of migrants in Malaysia gravely endangered; present crackdown must immediately stop

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) strongly condemns the crackdown on migrant workers begun on the dawn of 1 March 2005 by the Malaysian authorities.  AHRC in a statement issued on 1 February 2005 called on the Malaysian government to permanently halt this inhuman treatment of migrant workers.  There were similar calls from a large group of NGOs in Malaysia as well as affected state parties, especially Indonesia and the Philippines.  However, Malaysia’s blatant disregard of its own civil society as well as those of neighboring states not only demonstrates its complete disrespect for human rights but also its disdain for the humanitarian issues involved in this crackdown.  

Malaysian NGOs have repeatedly stressed the need for the government to take more comprehensive measures in addressing the problems relating to migrant workers, including addressing the root causes for many legal migrants becoming illegal.  This includes the lack of legal protection for migrants as well as the impunity enjoyed by the abusive “employment agents” and employers.  The AHRC urges the Malaysian government to take a human approach towards these migrants, especially in the aftermath of the worst natural disaster affecting the Asian region in recent decades.  It is the responsibility of Asian countries to go beyond mere rhetoric in supporting the worst affected countries like Indonesia, to rebuild and recover in this post-tsunami period.  Deporting migrants after inhuman methods of arrest and punishment certainly does not foster a relationship of genuine concern and compassion.  Furthermore, it cannot be disputed that these migrants have contributed enormously to the Malaysian economy, particularly when compared to the meagre benefits they have gained.  It is time to acknowledge such contributions trough humane gestures rather than taking tough measures, which will be remembered as genuine efforts to support the tsunami affected economies. 

There are other important concerns with regard to this crackdown.  It has been reported that other than the law enforcement agents such as police and immigration officials, civilian groups deployed for this operation will be armed with weapons such as pistols.  AHRC has also learned that these civilian volunteers have been promised with Malaysian Ringgit 80 for each migrant arrested.  Furthermore, the Malaysian police have a very bleak record of respect for human rights. Routine torture by the Malaysian police and the increasing number of deaths in police custody is well-known.  When the victims of such violations have often been Malaysian citizens, there can be little room for the protection of migrants’ rights.  

Other clear human rights concerns are the probable conditions of detention, legal representation, and prescribed punishments for the migrants.  Malaysian authorities have announced that whipping will be one of the punishments.  Whipping, administered on the buttocks, splits the skin and leaves permanent scars, and amounts to a brutal form of torture. That a developed country like Malaysia is still resorting to such horrendous methods of punishment is appalling.  Neighboring countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines have called on the Malaysian authorities for humane treatment of their nationals, particularly requesting them to not resort to whipping.  The AHRC calls upon Malaysian authorities to respect international norms and standards regarding torture, and to permanently do away with such punishments. Article 10 of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families clearly states that, “No migrant worker or member of his or her family shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The AHRC also calls upon Malaysian authorities to display their commitment to human rights by ratifying key human rights treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. 

We also want to draw special attention to persons who have been recognised as refugees by the UNHCR.  We urge the Government of Malaysia to respect the work of the UNHCR by providing protection to refugees under the protection of the UNHCR and respecting the international customary law principle of non-refoulement.  The Asian Human Rights Commission further renews its call to the United Nations and the Commonwealth Secretariat to take a greater role to intervene urgently with the Government of Malaysia to bring a better and humane solution to the issue of migrant workers and also to facilitate discussions with the affected countries.  

We call upon the Government of Malaysia to respect the rights of all migrants, especially their right to legal representation and right not to be tortured if in custody.  The Government of Malaysia must permanently halt this crackdown and resort to progressive discussions with the authorities of the affected countries to resolve this situation

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-20-2005
Countries : Malaysia,
Issues : Migrant workers,