Cambodian MP Nixes Bukit Aman’s Denial

Cambodian opposition MP Mu Sochua is challenging a statement by Bukit Aman that the reports about three Cambodian maids being abused to death are false.

Cambodian Ambassador Princess Norodom Arunrasmy recently disclosed that the embassy received daily complaints of abuse and that three maids had died within a week.

Mohd Bakri Zinin of the Bukit Aman Crime Investigation Department said yesterday that only two Cambodian deaths had been recorded since 2004 and that the two were male factory workers killed by compatriots.

But Sochua today rejected Bakri’s statement and asserted that three Cambodian maids did die recently.

“Cambodia’s Community Legal Education Centre is very much in touch with these cases,” she told FMT by email. “They have met family members and at least one was flown to Kuala Lumpur to identify her niece’s body.”

Sochua did not reveal the family’s identity, but she was probably referring to teenager Choy Phich, who was found dead at the back of her employer’s house in Penang on July 17.

Police ruled that the girl died of pneumonia, but Sochua has refused to believe this. On Aug 11, she arrived in Malaysia to seek the truth behind Choy Phich’s death and call for a freeze on the recruitment of Cambodian maids for Malaysia.

That call has been successful. Last weekend, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen announced a temporary ban on the export of maids to Malaysia.

For Sochua, a well-known figure in the Sam Rainsy Party and a former Women’s Affairs Minister, the ban is the triumph of a two-year battle that intensified in the last year as more distraught parents and reports of abuse turned up at her office.

She said she approached Hun Sen in Parliament last Friday during a coffee break and he immediately told her that he had heard her recommendations and supported them.

“He asked one of his deputies to call the Minister of Labour right there and then to issue a suspension of Cambodian maids to Malaysia,” she said.

“I had reported to him cases of deaths, abuse, psychoses and separation from children. But he added his own concerns of exploitation by companies through publicity and recruitment.

“What Malaysia must do now is form an independent committee with the participation of NGOs to look into cases of death and abuse not just of Cambodian workers but of all migrant workers.”

Independent committee
Responding to the Cambodian ban, Malaysian Foreign Minister, Anifah Aman, said Putrajaya would apologise to Cambodia if the allegations of abuse were proven.

Human Resources Minister S Subramaniam said the government would contact Phnom Penh to try to have the ban rescinded.

Neither of these responses has been palatable for Sochua.

“Many parents can testify and they want their loved ones to be honoured,” she said. “An apology is the least that can be done.

“With all due respect to Anifah, this is accountability. He must also form an independent committee because cases of death and rape cannot be dealt with through an apology. And I hope neither of them pushes for a reversal of the ban.”

Sochua also hit out at the Malaysian Ambassador in Phnom Penh, Mohd Hussein Tahir Nasruddin, for ignoring her letters to him on the issue.

“I asked for a meeting and never got an answer,” she said. “This is pure lack of responsibility and arrogance, which must be corrected.”

She said Malaysia must do the following before Cambodia should even consider lifting the ban:

  • Sign a memorandum of understanding based on the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 189.
  • Putting in place a mechanism to end debt bondage
  • Stop the practice of confiscating maids’ passports
  • Fully investigate and prosecute previous rape and abuse cases

“Malaysia must fulfil its commitment to the human rights of migrant workers,” Sochua said. “Right now Cambodia’s Ministry of Labour is meeting with recruitment agencies, but there must also be input from NGOs and an immediate meeting with Malaysian officials.

“My biggest concern is the lack of political will in developing a memorandum of understanding that guarantees the rights and protection of Cambodian maids. Without that, corrupt officials will still be protected if they are part of the recruitment agencies.”

Her fear may already have come true. There have been reports that two labour recruitment companies sent at least 25 maids to Malaysia yesterday in defiance of the ban.

Sochua will return to Malaysia on Nov 8 to discuss protection issues for all migrant workers, in particular domestic workers.

“I want to get Malaysian officials, NGOs and parliamentarians to push for Malaysia to practice responsibility and accountability when it concerns migrant workers and human rights,” she said.

“I will be meeting some of the victims and I will be finding solutions.”

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