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Joint Press Statement: Deaths and Conditions of Detention of Migrants and Refugees

24 April 2009

On 19 April 2009, a Bangladeshi newspaper reported that a Bangladeshi migrant worker, Ikhtiar, died in Lenggeng Immigration Detention Centre days after being tortured by the Malaysian police (1). Three days later, on 22 April 2009, The New Straits Times reported that a 25-year-old Liberian detainee was found dead in the same detention centre.

This year, (then Home Minister) Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar reported to Parliament a total of 2,571 deaths of detainees in prisons, rehabilitation centres and immigration detention centres between 1999 and 2008. He attributed these deaths to illnesses (including HIV/AIDS, septicaemia, tuberculosis, cancer, heart and blood diseases, and asthma) as well as fights and suicides.

We, the undersigned organizations, are deeply concerned by these deaths in detention.

We have highlighted repeatedly the poor conditions of detention in immigration detention centres, which include overcrowding, poor sanitation, insufficient provision of food and water, and inadequate access to necessary medical and health services (including emergency care, treatment for chronic medical conditions, infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV, and maternal health services).

We have lodged reports to SUHAKAM about other specific cases of physical abuse, torture and beatings that occur in detention. A year ago, for example, the Bar Council Human Rights Committee, Tenaganita and SUARAM submitted a joint memorandum to SUHAKAM concerning the severe beating of nine detainees by Immigration officers on 20 April 2008 at Lenggeng Immigration Detention Centre, which prompted riots by fellow detainees. Witnesses testified that a detainee was beaten so badly that he was frothing at the mouth and could not walk.

We remain deeply concerned that particularly vulnerable individuals are not provided adequate protection and care in detention, specifically that:

a) Unaccompanied minors are not separated from adults, which increases significantly their vulnerabilty to abuse;

b) Refugees and stateless persons not yet documented by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) at the point of arrest are not allowed access to UNHCR officials. Due to lack of intervention, a number have been whipped and deported, putting them in danger of refoulement;

c) Detainees in need of medical attention – including pregnant women, the physically and mentally ill, those with chronic medical conditions and/or infectious diseases, as well as trafficked persons – are not provided with adequate, timely care

Malaysia’s Obligations

As a member of the United Nations, the Human Rights Council and ASEAN, Malaysia is responsible for promoting and protecting the human rights of all peoples in its territory, including non-citizens.

Malaysia is prohibited by peremptory norms of international law from:

(i) subjecting an individual to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and

(ii) refouling an individual to a place where s/he would be at risk of such mistreatment or other mistreatment which would qualify the individual as a refugee.


In line with these concerns, we call for SUHAKAM to:

1. Conduct a comprehensive and independent inquiry into all deaths in detention, with full public disclosure of the names, nationalities and causes of death of the detainees by the government.

2. Increase vigilance in fulfilling its mandate to monitor detention conditions, safeguarding, in particular, the rights of women and children in detention in accordance with recommendations by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee) and the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC Committee) in their concluding observations on Malaysia dated 31 May 2006 and 2 February 2007 respectively

We call for the Malaysian Government to:

3. Review immigration policies and practices concerning migrants and refugees to eliminate unnecessary and unjust detention, which contributes to overcrowding and concomitant strain in resources. These include the detention of: documented migrant workers, migrant workers awaiting the outcome of court judgments, asylum seekers and refugees, infants, children, pregnant women, trafficked persons, the physically and mentally ill, and other vulnerable migrants.

4. Comply with recommendations of CRC Committee who urge the government to: “Take urgent measures not to detain children in connection with immigration proceedings, unless it is necessary to protect their best interests and for the shortest time possible, and establish a screening process to ensure that groups with special needs, such as refugees and asylum-seekers, including their children, are rapidly identified…”

5. Note the concern of the CEDAW Committee that “asylum-seekers and refugees, including women, are prosecuted for immigration-related offences and may be indefinitely detained at immigration detention centres or deported” and comply with their recommendation to: “adopt laws and regulations relating to the status of asylum-seekers and refugees in Malaysia, in line with international standards, in order to ensure protection for asylum seekers and refugee women and their children.”

6. Ensure that detention complies with international standards and guidelines, including the:

• 1955 UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (UN Economic and Social Council Resolution 2076)
• 1985 UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (‘The Beijing Rules’, UN General Assembly Resolution 40/33, of 29 November 1985)
• 1988 Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment (UN General Assembly Resolution 43/173, of December 9, 1988)
• 1990 Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners (UN General Assembly Resolution 45/111, of 14 December 1990)
• 1990 UN Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty (‘The Havana Rules’, UN General Assembly Resolution 45/113, of 14 December 1990)

7. Ratify international conventions, as recommended by the CEDAW and CRC Committees and the Human Rights Council through the Universal Periodic Review Process held on 11 February 2009, in particular the:

• 1984 International Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane and Degrading Treatment or Punishment • 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families
• 1951 Convention Related to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol

Endorsed by the following members of the Migration Working Group (MWG) and the Northern Network for Migrants and Refugees (Jaringan Utara Migrasi dan Pelarian, JUMP):

1. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
2. Persatuan Kebangsaan Hak Asasi Manusia (HAKAM)
3. Amnesty International Malaysia (AIM)
4. Tenaganita (Women’s Force)
5. Coordination of Action Research on AIDS and Mobility, Asia (CARAM Asia)
6. Malaysian Bar Council Human Rights Committee
7. Legal Aid Centre, Kuala Lumpur
8. Malaysian Social Research Institute (MSRI)
9. Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC)
10. Health Equity Initiatives (HEI)
11. Justice, Peace and Solidarity in Mission, The Good Shepherd Sisters
12. Nepali Sangati Penang
13. IMA Research Foundation, Bangladesh
14. Penang Office for Human Development (POHD)
15. Women’s Aid Organisation

(1) The Daily Star, ‘Bangladeshi tortured to death in Malaysia’, 19 April 2009.

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