Lawyers for Liberty refers to the statement by the director of the Criminal Investigations Department of Bukit Aman, Abdul Jalil Hassan, where he stated that enforcement agencies are working to combat human trafficking to improve its ranking in the US State Department Trafficking in Persons report.
We hope this is a positive indicator that the matter is being looked at seriously.
We note this was also reflected in some of the recent amendments to the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act 2007. As demonstrated in the in the Top Glove case, human trafficking will draw the ire of the international community and result in adverse economic consequences for our country.
It is obvious amendments to the law itself would not automatically improve the trafficking situation in Malaysia.
The enforcement of the act itself is woefully inadequate; the authorities have shown a serious lack of understanding of human trafficking as seen by its treatment of victims of human trafficking, who are still subjected to detention and criminal punishment for immigration offences or prostitution.
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Despite the existence of the Council for Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants that was tasked with overseeing the implementation of the act, this problem has persisted. This is what deters victims of trafficking from making reports, which in turn makes it harder to enforce the act.
Though the amendment to the act has increased the representation of members of NGOs within the council, this does not detract from the importance of further and more intense collaboration with civil society organisations and activists who deal with victims of trafficking on a day-to-day basis.
Many reports and complaints of abuses by activists are still ignored or worse, deferred for criminal prosecution instead.
Hence, if the government truly wishes to effectively combat human trafficking in Malaysia, they must seriously engage with activists and civil service organisations to fully understand the breadth of the problem, both in enforcement and the letter of the law.
Creating open communications is the first step in identifying the problem that ultimately would lead to a better collaborative effort by everyone involved to deal with this problem once and for all.
Zaid Malek is chief coordinator of Lawyers for Liberty
Note: See this response from Top Glove