Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Outbreak of Leptospirosis in Juru : 32 Malaysian NGOs submit memorandum to SUHAKAM on 27/5/2009

The call for better healthcare at detention places in Malaysia - healthcare that will sufficiently ensure that no more persons will fall ill and/or die of Leptospirosis (caused by water contaminated with animal urine) or any other such diseases...

On 23/5/2009 - 113 organisations/groups from all around the world. issued a Joint Statement. The statement and complaint was submitted to SUHAKAM on 25/5/2009. The said joint statement has also been sent to Malaysia's Prime Minister, Minister of Health, Minister of Home Affairs (being that Minister responsible for Immigration Department, Police,Rela ...and that Detention Centre where the deaths occured..). At present, 123 groups have endorsed that statement. [See earlier post:- 10 more join 113 in global concern about healthcare in Malaysia's detention places - 2 deaths Leptospirosis ]

Now on 27/5/2009, 32 Malaysian NGOs have submitted a Memorandum (see below). to SUHAKAM. This was an initiative of SUARAM and Health Equity Initiatives (HEI)...

Memorandum to SUHAKAM on Poor Conditions of Immigration Detention Centres Contributing to the Outbreak of Leptospirosis


On 12 May 2009, a 21 year old asylum seeker from Burma, Thang Hoih Piang, died of Leptospirosis and on 17 May 2009, a 26 year old asylum seeker also from Burma, Sa La Hin, suffered the same fate. They were both detained in Juru Immigration Detention Centre where they were infected by the disease. At the moment, 7 detainees are still said to be warded[1].

According to his family members, Thang Hoih Piang was a refugee who fled Burma due to forced labour by the Burmese military. He arrived in Malaysia in November 2005 with the hope of finding a better life. Following his death, on 15 May 2009 his family members and friends went to Hospital Besar Bukit Mertajam where he had been warded and died, in order to collect his body, to perform the burial rites according to their religion and customs. They had a letter from United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) stating that Thang Hoih Piang was a Person of Concern to UNHCR. However, they were informed that the body had already been cremated. The family members were unable to bring back the ashes because the crematorium was awaiting a letter from the Ministry of Health. When the family approached the mortuary of the hospital for a death certificate they were informed that a death certificate could not be issued because Thang Hoih Piang was undocumented and did not have a passport.

Thang Hoih Piang was among the 90 refugees and asylum seekers who were arrested in a raid at Wangsa Permai, Kepong on 4 November 2008. In the same raid, three pregnant women were also arrested, one of whom delivered her child during her detention. Another 30 asylum seekers and refugees with whose families we have contact and who were arrested during the same raid are still languishing in different detention centres nationwide.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection which humans acquire from animals through contact with water, food, or soil contaminated by urine from infected animals like rats, mice and dogs, by swallowing contaminated food or water or through skin contact[2]. According to The Star[3], mortality rates for Leptospirosis range from 5-40% depending on the patient’s general health and patients with previous good health records will make full recovery. The report also stated that infection can be treated with antibiotics. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if untreated, the patient could develop kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure, and respiratory distress while death occurs in rare cases.

Since his arrest on 04 November 2008, Thang Hoih Piang was in State custody, first being detained at Putrajaya and later being moved to Kajang Prison to Semenyih Detention Centre and finally to Juru Detention Centre. As such, the government of Malaysia is accountable for the health and death of Thang Hoih Piang during his period of detention, as well as of the death of Sa La Hin and the health of the other detainees who are currently ill and hospitalized for Leptospirosis.

Civil society groups have repeatedly highlighted the poor conditions of 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 infectious diseases and maternal health services)[4]. A joint report by SUARAM and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH)[5] cites depression, Tuberculosis, beri-beri, kidney problems and skin infections as medical problems suffered by detainees and reiterates poor detention conditions and inadequate medical care as exacerbating factors for the transmission of communicable diseases.

In 2008, following the fire at Lenggeng Immigration Detention Centre, the Human Rights Committee, Ad Hoc Immigration Subcommittee of the Bar Council, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), and Tenaganita raised the problems of severe overcrowding, unhygienic living conditions, prolonged and indefinite detention, outbreak of diseases, no access to medical treatment, and mistreatment of detainees by immigration and RELA officers, in a Memorandum to SUHAKAM.

Deaths in immigration detention centres are not uncommon. It was reported on 24 March 2009 that the then Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, in a written reply to a parliament question, stated a total of 2,571 deaths of detainees in prisons, rehabilitation centres and immigration detention centres between 1999 and 2008[6]. Causes of deaths were attributed to fights, suicides and illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, septicaemia, tuberculosis, cancer, heart and blood diseases, and asthma. In the month of April 2009, two deaths were reported in the press, following which we released a statement to express our concerns[7]. Regrettably, the current outbreak of Leptospirosis leading to the death of two detainees does not reflect that adequate steps had been taken to improve conditions in immigration detention centres and increase access of detainees to medical care in order to reduce and prevent future deaths in places of detention, in spite of the alarming figures presented in Parliament.

Areas of Concern

The recent deaths at Juru Immigration Detention Centre reflect poor conditions of detention. Urgent reforms and welfare measures must be initiated to avoid such incidents in the future.

We welcome the actions of the Ministry of Health which has shown openness in disclosing the outbreak of Leptospirosis, providing updates, and taking steps to investigate its causes. There is also ongoing cooperation between the Immigration Department and the Ministry of Health to contain the problem. This does not however absolve the agencies involved in the management of immigration detention centres from responsibility in relation to the outbreaks and the consequent deaths that occurred. Given the heightened duty and capacity of the State with regard to the right to life in a custodial setting, the government of Malaysia has a strong obligation to publicly account for the deaths of Thang Hoih Piang and Sa La Hin

We also note with regret that SUHAKAM has, over the years, failed to exhaust the scope of its mandate with regard to addressing the human rights violations experienced by non-citizens (in particular migrant workers, refugees and stateless persons).

SUHAKAM is mandated under Act 597 to exercise functions and powers in furtherance of the protection and promotion of human rights in the country, which include, human rights education and awareness raising, provision of advise and recommendations to Government in regard to legislation and administrative directives and procedures, and, recommendation to Government on subscription or accession of treaties and other international instruments in the field of human rights. Article 4(2)(1) of the Suhakam Act under 'Function and powers of the Commission' gives powers to Suhakam "to visit places of detention in accordance with procedures as prescribed by the laws relating to the places of detention and to make necessary recommendations" .

SUHAKAM has generally responded to complaints regarding migrant workers and refugees through seeking clarification from the parties alleged to have violated human rights, the conduct of dialogues and site visits, and monitoring of activities in relation to complaints received. Visits to detention centres have been accompanied by human rights awareness workshops that were organized for RELA and other government agencies though the sustainability and institutionalizatio n of these awareness raising initiatives are unclear[8].

However, out of the 51 official press statements made by SUHAKAM from 2007 to date, the only statement pertaining to non citizens was a protest against Malaysia being placed in Tier 3 in the Trafficking in Persons Report by the U.S. government[9], as rights groups, refugees and the US government continue to produce overwhelming evidence on the phenomenon.

SUHAKAM’s position on the right to health of non-citizens, both documented and undocumented, has yet to be made the subject of any unambiguous statements[10].

In 2006, SUHAKAM conducted public inquiries on deaths in custody and police brutality during public protests. Yet, despite media reports on and complaints (including memoranda) received by it alleging infringement of human rights of migrant workers, as well as admission by individual commissioners of alarming rates of deaths of individuals held in places of detention, SUHAKAM has yet to conduct a public inquiry into these infringements on human rights. SUHAKAM’s reports do not make clear how Commissioners reach decisions regarding public inquiries during their monthly meetings[11]. SUHAKAM needs to clarify the reasons for its differential response to the human rights violations experienced by citizens and non-citizens.

SUHAKAM must view the seriousness of the Leptospirosis outbreak in Juru Detention Centre with concern and act independently to ensure that justice is done for detainees. SUHAKAM must make the parties responsible for both the outbreak of Leptospirosis in the Juru detention centre and the general deterioration of conditions in detention centres across the country (which include the absence of a doctor and medical personnel stationed in detention centres) accountable. Overall, there have been an unacceptably high number of deaths of detainees in detention centres.

The following issues and allegations need urgent attention from SUHAKAM:

1. The alleged poor conditions and poor administration of Immigration Detention Centres with little or no respect to detainees and their right to life. This includes, inter alia,

a. Overcrowding of detention centres, including severe and chronic overcrowding in some facilities, poor sanitation[12]

b. Inadequate availability of hygienic and nutritious food

c. Absence of a full time doctor and health personnel in Immigration Detention Centres

d. Increase in abuse of power, violence and corruption since the taking over of Immigration Detention Centres by RELA[13]

e. The failure of the State in its duty of care towards individuals in its custody

2. The continued arrest of refugees and asylum seekers despite recommendations by the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women[14] and the Committee on the Rights of the Child[15] for Malaysia to adopt laws and regulations concerning the status of asylum seekers and refugees, in line with international standards to ensure their protection

3. The prolonged and indefinite detention of asylum seekers, refugees, stateless persons and undocumented migrants

a. Many asylum seekers, refugees, stateless persons and undocumented migrants are detained for long and indefinite periods in detention centres, while awaiting resettlement or deportation to the border. Thang Hoih Ping and several of his friends who were arrested on 04 November 2009 at Wangsa Permai were detained for more than 6 months

b. With respect to the persons of concern to the UNHCR, we recommend that the Government cooperates with the UNHCR for the release of such persons. The UNHCR should be allowed full access to all asylum seekers and refugees in detention centres and prisons in order to determine their status and assess their protection needs.

Urgent Recommendations

In line with these serious concerns, we call on SUHAKAM to:

1. Conduct immediately an independent and open public inquiry into the incident of the outbreak of Leptospirosis at Juru Immigration Detention Centre that has led to the deaths of two detainees and to make public the findings of the inquiry

2. Upon conclusion of the inquiry, consider and where applicable, pursue the issue of compensation to the families of the deceased Thang Hoih Piang and Sa La Hin with the government of Malaysia, including compensation of costs of burial and last rites

3. Conduct comprehensive and independent investigations on all cases of deaths in detention centres, with full public disclosure of the names, nationalities and causes of deaths

4. Fulfil its mandate to monitor detention conditions by initiating regular visits to detention centres, and to safeguard the rights of women and children in detention in accordance with recommendations by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the Committee on the Rights of the Child

5. Use its advisory and recommendatory powers to make appropriate recommendations to the Government in relation to improving detention conditions, and to monitor the implementation of these recommendations

6. Hold regular consultations with NGOs to share information relating to conditions of detention centres

7. Form a Sub-Committee on Monitoring Places of Detention which include civil society organisations, migrant and refugee groups, and relevant stakeholders in order to improve detention conditions

8. Press the Government to cease the rampant raids and arrests of refugees and asylum seekers, and to release all recognised refugees, asylum seekers and persons of concern

9. Urge the Government to ensure comprehensive registration of all asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons and recommending cooperation with UNHCR in relation to the granting of access to all detainees who seek its assistance

10. Advise the government to set up permanent clinics at immigration detention centres, under the purview of the Ministry of Health. The clinics should be equipped with a full time medical doctor and male and female medical assistants and with adequate facilities to be able to address first line treatment needs of detainees and make referrals for medical emergencies and second line treatment.

Endorsed by:

1. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)

2. Health Equity Initiatives (HEI)

3. The National Human Rights Society (HAKAM)


5. Amnesty International Malaysia (AIM)

6. Bar Council Human Rights Committee

7. Bar Council Legal Aid Centre (Kuala Lumpur)

8. Center for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC)

9. Civil Rights Committee, Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH-CRC)

  1. Civil Society Committee of LLG Cultural Development Centre (LLGCSC)

11. Community Development Centre (CDC)

  1. Coordination of Action Research on AIDS and Mobility, Asia (CARAM Asia)

13. ERA Consumer

14. Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas (JERIT)

15. Jawatankuasa Kebajikan Mahasiswa/i (JKMI)

16. Labour Resource Centre (LRC)

17. Malaysia Student and Youth Democratic Movement (DEMA)

18. Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC)

19. National Institute for Electoral Integrity (NIEI)

20. Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR)

21. Penang Watch

22. Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)

23. Pusat Khidmat Pekerja Tanjung (PKPT)

24. Pusat Komas

25. Persatuan Masyarakat Selangor & Wilayah Persekutuan (PERMAS)

26. Save Ourselves (SOS)

27. Social Economic Committee, Kuala Lumpur & Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH-SEC)

28. Tenaganita

29. The Justice, Peace & Solidarity In Mission Office, The Good Shepherd Sisters

30. Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)

31. Worker’s Organisation Malaysia

32. Youth 4 Change (Y4C)

[1] Bernama (2009) ‘Leptospirosis Cases In Juru Reported Stable’, 24 May, at http://www.bernama. com/bernama/ v5/newsindex. php?id=413335, accessed 25 May 2009.

[3] The Star (2009) ‘Outbreak of Leptospirosis at Juru detention camp’, 16 May.

[4] Migration Working Group (2007) ‘Joint Statement on RELA Taking Over Immigration Detention Centres’, 7 December.

[5] International Federation for Human Rights and Suara Rakyat Malaysia (2008) Undocumented migrants and refugees in Malaysia : Raids, Detention and Discrimination’ , March.

[6] The Star (2009) ‘2571 detainees died in past nine years’, 24 March

[7] Migration Working Group (2009) ‘Deaths and Conditions of Detention of Migrants and Refugees’, 24 April.

[8] Jakarta Process (2008) ‘Traversing spaces of power. The role of national human rights institutions in the protection and promotion of human rights of migrants with irregular status and migrant domestic workers’, draft version.

[9] SUHAKAM (2007) ‘Protest on Malaysian Placement in Trafficking in Persons Report’, at http://www.suhakam. document_ library/get_ file?p_l_ id=24400&folderId=26657&name=DLFE-717. pdf, accessed 21 May 2009.

[10]See Suhakam (2006) High level Policy Dialogue on Human Rights Perspectives on MDGs & Beyond.

[11] Jakarta Process (2008) supra fn.8.

[12] See Migration Working Group (2007) supra fn. 4

[13] Migrant Rights International and Migrant Forum in Asia, MRI & MFA (2008) ‘Living with RELA Operations and Whipping: An Appeal by Refugees from Burma Residing in Malaysia’, distributed at the 7th session of the Human Rights Council, 18 March; Human Rights Committee of the Bar Council et al. (2008) ‘Memorandum to SUHAKAM on the Fire Incident at the Lenggeng Immigration Detention Centre’, submitted 15 May.

[14] Concluding comments of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women: Malaysia , dated 31 May 2006, at tbs/doc.nsf/ 385c2add1632f4a8 c12565a9004dc311 /626c3356d916bcd ec125723e003b391 a/$FILE/N0638440 .pdf, accessed 25 May 2009.

[15] Committee on the Rights of the Child Concluding Observations: Malaysia , dated 25 June 2007, at http://www.unhchr. ch/tbs/doc. nsf/(Symbol) /284f251ba9a2286 6c125730d004f0b1 6?Opendocument, accessed 25 May 2009.

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