Is the ISA the answer to human trafficking?

By Ding Jo-Ann, The Nut Graph

THREE years ago, amid much fanfare to prove Malaysia’s credentials to the international community, the Barisan Nasional (BN) government enacted the Anti-Trafficking In Persons Act 2007 (Atip).

The law gives enforcement officers the power to arrest anyone they reasonably suspect of committing human trafficking offences, even without a warrant. It also gives them the power to detain suspects for questioning. Furthermore, it provides for imprisonment of up to 20 years and fines of up to RM500,000 for serious trafficking offences. Indeed, Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil declared that the law gave “clout to law enforcers”, “protects victims and informants”, “provides tough penalties”, and was “very comprehensive in its reach”.

Clearly the police and the home minister think otherwise. Why else would the police use the Internal Security Act (ISA) to arrest nine persons for alleged human trafficking? Doesn’t the police believe in the efficacy of a law which promised “clout”, “tough penalties” and “comprehensive reach”? Isn’t the home minister on the same page as his other colleagues in government? Or was the Atif simply a public relations exercise?

“No significant commitment”

Malaysia has been trying hard to improve its anti-trafficking record in the international arena. In 2009, Malaysia was downgraded by the US State Department in their Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) to Tier 3, which is the lowest category for anti-trafficking efforts. Tier 3 countries were those found “not making significant efforts to comply with minimum standards” under the US Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. Other than Malaysia, other Tier 3 countries in the report were North Korea, Niger and Papua New Guinea.

Chagrined, the Malaysian government went into damage control, stepping up enforcement on Atip, and organising public awareness campaigns and training for relevant government officers. This led to Malaysia being upgraded in the Trafficking in Persons Report 2010 from Tier 3 to the Tier 2 Watch List. (Interestingly, many of the Malaysian traditional media reported Malaysia as being upgraded to Tier 2, which is a higher category than the Tier 2 Watch List.)

Although Malaysia still falls short of minimum standards, the 2010 TIP report acknowledges that we are now making “significant efforts” to comply. However, Malaysia is still listed as a trafficking destination. A host of issues remain unresolved, including insufficient protection of trafficking victims and reported collusion between police and offenders.

The report made several recommendations for Malaysia to improve its anti-trafficking efforts holistically. Among others, these include increasing investigation and prosecution efforts.


How did our authorities conclude that detaining suspected trafficking offenders without trial was a step forward in our anti-trafficking efforts? How does using the ISA increase investigation and prosecution efforts?

Mind you, no less than the newly appointed Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar believes that using the ISA “to assist police investigations” shows that the police are working hard in fighting human trafficking.