A human trafficking syndicate committed crimes against humanity between 2012 and 2015 against Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees trying to flee to Malaysia and Thailand, two Southeast Asia-based human rights groups said in a report on Wednesday.
In the joint 121-page work titled “Sold Like Fish,” the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) and the Bangkok-based Fortify Rights provides accounts of survivors who were deceived by the traffickers, believing they were boarding boats to seek refuge abroad.
Once on board, the captive Rohingya suffered abuse at sea. On-board conditions were dire, as there was inadequate space, food and water. Many were the victims of torture or rape, and some were murdered or committed suicide during the voyage.
Their lot did not improve once they arrived on shore, as victims were held in what the Fortify Rights describes as “conditions of enslavement.”
“Members of a transnational criminal syndicate—including in some cases government officials—conceived, managed, supported, and operated camps in Thailand and Malaysia where traffickers deprived Rohingya men, women, and children of their liberty and treated them as chattel,” the report said.
The study is based on 270 interviews with both survivors and officials who describe experiences in internment camps near the Thai-Malaysian border. The Malaysian government has appointed a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the dumping of dead victims in Perlis state in 2015. That report is due to come out in June.
“The victims of these crimes and their families suffered tremendously, and these horrific crimes should never happen again in Malaysia and anywhere else for that matter,” said SUHAKAM Commissioner Jerald Joseph.
“This report provides new evidence that we hope will help ensure justice for victims, accountability for perpetrators, and policy changes to strengthen the Malaysian and regional response to human trafficking,” he said.
The Myanmar military has created a three-member investigative panel to probe the conduct of the armed forces during a 2017 crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine state that left thousands dead and forced more than 740,000 to flee to Bangladesh, the country’s commander-in-chief’s office announced Monday.
The campaign of violence by security forces included extrajudicial killings of Rohingya, torture, sexual assaults, and the torching of Rohingya communities, which the government and the army has denied, while defending the campaign as necessary measure to stop a group of military Muslims that conducted deadly attacks on police outposts in the region.
From de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi on down, Myanmar has shrugged off credible testimony of the brutality, satellite images of burned villages, and other evidence of atrocities that have sparked calls by rights groups and United Nations officials to bring the perpetrators to justice before the International Criminal Court (ICC) or another tribunal.
Against that background, human rights groups were dismissive of the proposed investigation by a Myanmar military that they see as the chief culprit in the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya and other atrocities in the country. Earlier investigations by the military were seen by outside experts as a whitewash.