As Obama Heads To Malaysia, Human Trafficking Stance Questioned
KUALA LUMPUR/WASHINGTON – Inus bin Abul Baser, an 18-year-old from Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority, believed he’d escaped the worst when he managed to buy his freedom from human traffickers in Thailand and enter Malaysia in search of security and work.
But within weeks, he was cooped up in a filthy, overcrowded detention center near Kuala Lumpur’s international airport, squatting or sleeping on the floor in a hall with scores of other men. During his fourth month, wardens ordered them not to move or talk, he says, and beat them with belts if they did.
“There was no rest. You couldn’t sit or lie down without touching someone else,” he said, pointing to a welt on his forearm that he says he received when a guard beat him for arguing with another detainee over space. Reuters was unable to independently confirm his allegations. Interviews with six former detainees revealed similar treatment.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Malaysia on Friday for a Southeast Asia leaders’ summit comes amid allegations by U.S. lawmakers and rights groups that his administration ignored Malaysia’s abuse of trafficking victims such as Baser to secure the country’s help sealing a high-profile trade deal and strengthen ties to offset China’s growing political clout.
As Reuters previously reported, a U.S. State Department office set up by Congress to independently grade global efforts to fight human trafficking had recommended keeping Malaysia on the bottom grade in its annual Trafficking in Persons Report this year. That status, known as Tier 3, is reserved for countries with the worst trafficking records.
But senior officials instead in July upgraded Malaysia to the Tier 2 Watch List, freeing the country from potential sanctions and international condemnation, and paving the way for the ambitious 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. If Malaysia remained a Tier 3 country, the Obama administration would have had to exclude it from the deal under the fast-track negotiating authority it had from Congress, potentially torpedoing the agreement.
Starkly worded criticism of Malaysia was excised from the final report, according to internal documents seen by Reuters that have not been previously made public.
Malaysian government officials did not respond to requests for comment on the country’s trafficking record or detention centers such as the one where Baser stayed, but Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told a news conference on Thursday that conditions in the facilities had improved.
Secretary of State John Kerry denied on Aug. 6 that there was any link between Malaysia’s human trafficking ranking and the trade deal, which was concluded in October.
Source: Malaysian Digest