International human rights lobby Amnesty International has called for a full investigation into claims seven Acehnese asylum-seekers in Malaysia were beaten while in detention. Amnesty believes the detainees - which include a 13-month old child - were assaulted by guards at the Langkap Detention Centre, and may soon be forcibly deported. The seven are among a group of more than 200 asylum seekers from the Indonesian province of Aceh, who were arrested in August while attempting to apply for asylum in Kuala Lumpur. But the Malaysian government claims they entered the country illegally in search of work and must now leave.
PANICHI: Amnesty claims it's in no doubt what's going on in Langkap amouts to a serious violation of human rights. Besides the most recent reports of violence, it believes living conditions in the centre are simply unacceptable. Tim Parritt is a researcher covering South East Asia in Amnesty's London Office. He says it's now time for authorities to step in.
PARRITT: The key request that Amnesty International and other human rights groups have is for Malaysian authorities to allow independent, regular access into these detention camps by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees - but also other independent experts. The experts can look at the condition of the camp and ensure adequate levels of medical care and nutrition. Because we have had concerns about unsanitary conditions, illnesses, and otherwise conditions not meeting international standards."
PANICHI: However, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has little room to move in Malaysia. The country's government isn't a signatory to the U-N convention on refugees. In fact, it argues it's under no obligation to examine the claims of Acehnese asylum-seekers still in the country. Professor Hamdan Adnan is the chairperson of the Complaints and Investigations Working Group, with Malaysia's Human Rights Commission. He recently visited Langkap, and says while conditions there may be spartan, all detainees are being properly looked after.
ADNAN: The camp's a new camp. So, it's quite OK. But of course, a detention camp is a detention camp. Surely, if Amnesty International talks to us, we will definitely have another visit.
PANICHI: Of course, the Malaysian government claims it's under no direct obligation to offer the Acehnese asylum. What's the Commissions position on that?
ADNAN: Well, we have spoken to a lot of these Acehnese who are being detained. And of course, the UNHCR is helping them. And the Malaysian government has no objection to that, for those who want to go to a third country. But for those who want to go back, I think they have been sent back.
PANICHI: In fact, of the initial 200 Acehnese who were arrested in front of the UNHCR office in Kuala Lumpur, 70 are believed to have returned to Aceh voluntarily. Those left in the centre claim Indonesia's renewed military operations against separatist rebels in Aceh place them at serious risk, if they were to leave Malaysia. Irene Fernandez is an activist with the Tenaganita Human Rights Group. Her 1996 report on living conditions in Malaysia's detention camps led to her being charged and prosecuted by the government. Ms Fernandez was found guilty of "maliciously publishing false news", and sentenced to 12 months jail - although her conviction is now being appealed. She says her research would suggest Amnesty International has good reason to be concerned.
FERNANDEZ: It's very deplorable and horrendous, because as recently as last week, we interviewed those who were detained in the camps. And they still spoke of very little food, two glasses of water, people still being beaten up and tortured, babies do not have milk, milk has to be bought, mothers do not have the money. It really calls for immediate investigation.
PANICHI: Do you believe that your own investigation is evidence that the government is still very sensitive about conditions in the camp?
FERNANDEZ: Definitely. The concern is that because these camps are managed by the police force, it still comes under the Home Ministry. The previous prime minister was also home minister, and the current prime minister is also home minister. So, it really questions the credibility and capacity to manage these institutions by the police force.
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