Trafficking in person: Report truthfully and no cover up

Full text of Datuk Chamil Wariya’s speech, given at the opening ceremony of Workshop on Reporting on Trafficking in Person, Kota Kinabalu Sabah, 3 & 4 October, 2011.

I am glad that we have managed to gather here to discuss this vital aspect of people trafficking and that of the local mainstream media’s role.

I thank the participants, fellow journalists from Sabah and Sarawak, the Malaysian government and the United States Embassy in Kuala Lumpur for helping to bring about this workshop.

This is the second time, MPI is collaborating with the US Embassy to organize this workshop on Reporting on Trafficking in Persons.

We thank the US Embassy for its generous support financially to make this workshop a reality here in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah whose problem in trafficking in persons is often highlighted in the media both locally and abroad.

Hopefully, through interaction of this nature, we as journalists will realize the pressing need for a more comprehensive reporting on people trafficking, as the whole problem is worldwide.

As we know, Malaysia is greatly affected by the global movement of people. I am happy to see that the government via MAPO, the Council of Anti Trafficking in Persons and Anti Smuggling of Migrants, has done its level best to create awareness about this issue.

As journalists we have a duty to report the good and the bad aspects on the real problem of people smuggling and trafficking in this country.

We should not just find out about such unsavory incidents through foreign media or other external sources.

I am happy to note that the Malaysian government promises to respect the role of whistle blowers and informants. We in the mainstream media should take advantage of this to report truthfully as any attempts to suppress reports on human trafficking will not do us any good. It might be perceived as a cover –up. Overall it is the country’s reputation on international stage is as stake.

It is very embarrassing for us to find out that Malaysia’s shortcomings in dealing with human trafficking have been picked up by the independent and foreign media and we just become bystanders.

As a Malaysian, it is encouraging to know that Malaysia’s standing among various Human Rights NGOs and the United States Department has improved slightly since we organized our first workshop more than a year ago.

In 2008, Malaysia was in the tier three of the State Department People Trafficking Chart. Perceptions seemed to have improved in the 2010 and 2011 reports, which placed Malaysia in the watch list of tier 2.

But I feel we don’t have to wait 2012 report to be announced by the U.S government next year to realize that our standing will not improve very much.

Maybe it is high time for government to improve on its human rights standing before it can play a serious role in fighting human trafficking.

It seems obvious, but one major step has not been addressed for a very long time. As a journalist, I can’t help notice that the most glaring move that can help curb people trafficking has not been taken: Malaysia has not signed the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol.

I am not saying that the NGO’s chart and the U.S State Department report are the gold standard to abide by. What we need is more sensitive to the problem of people trafficking.

It is something that we need to be concerned and we must play our role as the fourth estate.

While we can argue for eternity on the merits of the ranking status, we can be sure that the present government is concerned, and action is needed now. It is up to us to be more assertive in publishing constructive criticisms and suggest remedies.

We should be trying to encourage civil society. I believe as journalists we should serve to inform in order to raise awareness and to play our role as a watchdog as well. This would also mean that we better brush up our knowledge of relevant immigration and refugees laws. There should be no problem. All the information is in public domain. No need to go back to university for such a course.

It is time that the local media play more effective role in making both the government and the public to be more receptive to humanitarian issues so that we can be recognize as a nation of humanitarians.

Finally once again, I would like to thank all those who have supported this workshop. In particular my appreciation goes to the U.S Embassy, the Attorney General Chambers, MAPO, Lincoln Resource Center, Polis Diraja Malaysia (PDRM) Sabah and Sabah Journalists Association..

I would also like to thank the speakers of the workshop Prof. Salleh Buang of UTM, Puan Nor Amalina Ismail of AG Chambers, Ms Selena R Nelson – Salcedo of the U.S Embassy, Dato’ Lourdes Charles of the Star, Ms. Harvinder Kaur of the Lincoln Resource Center , Commander Ahmad Faridi Ferdaus, Prof. Dr. Azizah Kassim of MAPO, DSP Ravi Chandran of PDRM Sabah and Mdm. Anne Keyworth of Bukit Harapan Home.

Thank you also to the Police Commissioner of Sabah DCP Datuk Hamza Taib for closing the workshop tomorrow. Selamat berbengkel and terima kasih.