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Trafficking in persons: UN human rights expert urges Malaysia to focus efforts on victims

GENEVA / KUALA LUMPUR (2 March 2015) – United Nations human rights expert Maria Grazia Giammarinaro urged* the Malaysian Government to improve the prevention of trafficking in persons and the protection of human rights of its victims at the end of her first official visit to the country. There is an estimated two million documented and two million or more undocumented migrant workers in Malaysia.

“Institutional and legal framework to prevent and combat trafficking is in place in Malaysia,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children. “The challenge is now to make the whole mechanism more effective and able to deal with the ever changing features of trafficking, especially concerning its labour dimension, and its connection with migration policies.”

The human rights expert noted that the criminalisation of irregular migrants and the non-recognition of the status of asylum seekers and refugees “contribute to increasing the social vulnerability of migrants, who can fall easy prey to traffickers, and are discouraged from reporting exploitation in order to escape from prosecution and deportation.”

“I urge the Malaysian authorities to address more effectively all forms of trafficking, and prioritize trafficking for forced labour and labour exploitation,” Ms. Giammarinaro said, calling for the adoption of a new protection system that provides exploited workers, especially migrant workers, immediate assistance to claim compensation, and grants temporary residence status and a work permit.

During her six-day visit, the expert was informed of cases involving primarily semi-skilled, low skilled male migrant workers from the Pacific and the South-west Asia regions.

The vulnerable situation of semi-skilled and low skilled migrant workers is often exploited for labor trafficking by unscrupulous recruitment agents -in source countries and Malaysia- and employers most commonly through breach of contract, payment of excessive recruitment fees, debt bondage, non-payment of salary, withholding of passports, excessive working hours, lack of rest days and physical and/or sexual abuse.

Moreover, trafficking of young foreign women and children for the purpose of sexual exploitation is also prevalent in the country, where they are mostly forced into the commercial sex trade following deceptive recruitment practices for legal work in Malaysia. There is also information about women and girls from South Asia entering into brokered marriages with older men in Malaysia and subsequently being forced into domestic servitude and forced prostitution.

“No victim of trafficking should be prosecuted for crimes linked with their situation of trafficked persons, and be detained,” Ms. Giammarinaro stressed. “Shelters must be open places, preferably run by NGOs, which should be adequately funded for this purpose. Psychological, medical and legal assistance should aim to promote rehabilitation, reintegration and social inclusion of trafficked persons.”

The Special Rapporteur noted the proposed amendments to the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti–Smuggling of Migrants Act concerning, among other things, freedom of movement to victims, and funding to NGOs willing to run shelters. “I urge the Government and the Parliament to ensure that the legislative process be quick and successful, and that the outcome be consistent with a human rights and victim centered approach,” she said.

The expert also urged the Malaysian authorities to encourage businesses to promote social corporate responsibility by establishing, among others, self-regulatory mechanisms aimed at cleaning their supply chain from trafficking and forced labour. Consistently with the goals of Malaysia under Vision 2020, forced labour and labour exploitation must not be condoned, and this requires concerted efforts of public authorities and the private sector.

“It is the Government’s responsibility to establish an effective mechanism to license, check on a regular basis and sanction if necessary, recruitment and employment agencies, very often involved in abusive and exploitative practices”, she stated. “The extension of the license of existing authorisations until 2021 should be complemented by further checks, in order to prevent and prosecute abusive practices.”

The Special Rapporteur also expressed deep concern that boys and girls, identified or presumed victims of trafficking, are often detained and subsequently deported, and not provided with adequate specialist support for recovery and social inclusion.

“In spite of existing shelters for children, identification of trafficked boys and girls is still far from sufficient,” she said. “In addition, specific procedures should be established and implemented to ensure that the best interest of the child be the primary concern in all the relevant anti-trafficking actions.”

During her fact-finding visit, Ms. Giammarinaro met with representatives of various Government agencies, as well as members of civil society organizations working to fight against trafficking in persons in Kuala Lumpur, Melaka, Rembau and Kota Kinabalu in Sabah. She also met with victims of trafficking.

The Special Rapporteur will present a final report on her visit to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2015.

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15631&LangID=E

Maria Grazia Giammarinaro (Italy) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2014, to promote the prevention of trafficking in persons in all its forms, and to encourage measures to uphold and protect the human rights of victims. Ms. Giammarinaro has been a Judge since 1991 and currently serves as a Pre-Trial Judge at the Criminal Court of Rome. She was the Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings of the OSCE, and served in the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Justice, Freedom and Security in Brussels, where she was responsible for combating human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children. She drafted the EU Directive on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Trafficking/Pages/TraffickingIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Malaysia: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/MYIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Selma Vadala  (svadala@ohchr.org / +41 22 917 9108 ) or write to srtrafficking@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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