Sunday, March 20, 2011

Call for Malaysia to stop caning refugees

AMNESTY International has called on Malaysia to halt the use of caning after it was revealed 30,000 migrants and refugees, including asylum seekers headed to Australia, have been subject to the punishment in the past five years. 

While most countries have abolished judicial caning, Malaysia has expanded the practice with the number of offences covered by the punishment having been expanded to more than 60.

Amnesty International's Asia Pacific director, Sam Zarifi, said the practice of caning amounted to torture and was absolutely prohibited under international law, and should be stopped immediately.

The latest figures were revealed earlier this week by Malaysia's Home Minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, who in response to a parliamentary question said 29,759 foreigners had been caned between 2005 and 2010 for immigration offences alone.

"The government's figures confirm that Malaysia is subjecting thousands of people to torture and other ill-treatment each year," Mr Zarifi said.

"As a first step, the Malaysian government has to immediately declare a moratorium on this brutal practice."

He said the findings of an Amnesty investigation into 57 cases of judicial caning in Malaysia, published in December, found the punishment could be classified as torture as authorities had intentionally inflicted severe pain and suffering.

The human rights organisation said tens of thousands of refugees and migrant workers had been caned since 2002, when Malaysia amended the Immigration Act to make immigration violations such as illegal entry subject to the punishment.

Those subject to judicial caning include asylum seekers caught transiting through Malaysia, many of whom are often on their way to Australia.

In October last year, Australia provided Malaysia with $1 million worth of equipment, including patrol boats, to help combat people smuggling.

Amnesty's national refugee coordinator for Australia, Graham Thom, said Canberra must share some of the responsibility for the treatment of asylum seekers detained in Malaysia.

"There's a real chance, in the view of Amnesty International, that they will find their way into the Malaysian judicial system and could be subject to caning," Dr Thom said.

"We think there is a moral obligation on the Australian government to ensure these asylum seekers are not being subject to what amounts to torture."

Malaysian MP Liew Chin Tong, who sought the figures in parliament on Wednesday, said at least 60 per cent of the 29,759 foreigners caned in the past five years were Indonesians.

Mr Zarifi said Indonesia should use its position as the current chair of the Association of South East Asian Nations to apply pressure on Malaysia to cease the use of caning as a form of punishment.