Malaysian Bar HRC: Lenggeng Incident Not What It Seems

ROUNDED UP: Malaysian police keeping a close eye on detainees from Myanmar at the holding camp in Lenggeng, Negeri Sembilan. Some 60 illegals rioted and set fire to a building on Monday.

The Committee refers to The Star's online report on 21 April 2008 "Myanmar riot at detention camp, building torched". It was reported that 60 Myanmar nationals were involved in a riot at the Lenggeng detention camp “apparently after they were told that their application to move to a third country was unsuccessful”.

On 8 May 2008, members of the Committee’s Complaints and Intervention Strike-Force interviewed 14 detainees who are being held at the Seremban District Police Headquarters for investigations into the incident.

Based on statements taken from the detainees, we note the following:

  1. On 20 April 2008, 9 detainees in the Lenggeng camp were punched, kicked and beaten by 5 unidentified officers in the immigration office within the camp. The cries of the victims could be heard by the other detainees.
  2. In response to the abuse on 20 April 2008, the Lenggeng detainees began to protest. Some threw plastic water bottles out of their cells. The following morning when the wardens brought breakfast to the detainees, the detainees refused to eat the same.
  3. Some of the 14 detainees interviewed were Myanmar refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”). They had only been recently incarcerated in the months of March and April, and there was no legitimate expectation that they would be resettled, a process which may take many months or even years. Some of the other detainees were Indonesians who were to be deported on 22 April 2008, and it was against their interests to be part of any riot or uprising which would jeopardise their deportations.
  4. Every day, there would usually be at least 5 immigration officers and 10 RELA officers on duty in the detention blocks. However, at approximately 12.00 pm on 21 April 2008, many of the detainees confirmed that the immigration and RELA officers had evacuated the blocks. Smoke was then seen to be emanating from the office of the officers. Some of the detainees had to break their cell doors to escape the fire which was spreading.

The Committee is continuing to gather more information on the incident, and to take statements where necessary. In the interim, we would caution against the apparent conclusion that the riot was caused by detainees who were dissatisfied with the rejections of their asylum applications.

We state as follows:

  1. The immigration department, being the arresting and investigating authority, should not be managing and supervising the post-trial detention of the detainees. Similarly, RELA, established under our emergency laws and which consist of inadequately trained personnel, should not be part of this process. The duty to manage the immigration camps should rest on the prisons department which has particular expertise in this field of work.
  2. Unhindered access to all immigration camps should be restored immediately to UNHCR which has the international mandate to monitor, document, assist and protect refugees, asylum-seekers and persons of concern.
  3. There must be a return to constructive and effective dialogue among the stakeholders concerned with immigration and refugee problems in the country. A Special Task-Force with monitoring and advisory powers should be established immediately under the purview of the Home Ministry consisting of representatives from the Ministry, police, immigration, RELA, prisons, SUHAKAM, UNHCR, Bar Council and concerned NGOs to look into the said problems.
  4. A thorough investigation must be conducted into the Lenggeng incident by a Royal Commission of Inquiry or SUHAKAM with a view to making appropriate recommendations to the Government.

Dated this 13th day of May 2008
Human Rights Committee
Malaysian Bar Council.

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