Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 2nd of August, 2015
Strongly urge US Secretary of State, John Kerry, to raise the possible presence of North Korean forced labor in Malaysia in his discussion with his Malaysian counterpart, Anifah Aman
I read with interest a recent newspaper report stating that the US Secretary of State John Kerry will press Malaysia to improve its efforts to combat human trafficking in his upcoming visit to Kuala Lumpur. Recently, Malaysia was upgraded from its previous Tier 3 status under the US State Department Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report 2014 to its current updated Tier 2 Watch List status in the 2015 TIP report.
Earlier last month, a group of 19 Senators, led by Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, wrote a letter to Secretary John Kerry expressing their concern of a premature upgrading of Malaysia’s status in the TIP report. Their concerns were validated when Malaysia’s status was indeed validated in the 2015 TIP report. It should also be noted that Senator Menendez was the author of an amendment to the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation – or better known as ‘fast track’ – that would have disallowed the US from making any trade deals with a country with a Tier 3 status on the TIP report. This obviously would have affected Malaysia’s inclusion in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement.
I strongly urge Secretary Kerry to bring up an issue that was ignored in the Malaysian section of the 2015 TIP report which concerns the possible presence of North Korean forced labor in Malaysia.
The issue of forced labor involving North Korean workers was highlighted in the country reports for Russia, China and Mongolia in the 2015 TIP report. But no mention was made of the possible presence of North Korean forced labor in Malaysia, even though reports by the Asian Institute for Policy Studies and the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights had reported that there were approximately 300 North Koreans working in Malaysia.
The presence of North Koreans working in Malaysia was reported in the local press in November 2014 when a deadly mine explosion in Sri Aman, Kuching, claimed the lives of 3 miners (out of whom 1 was North Korean) and injured a further 29 (out of whom 7 were North Korean). It was further reported that a majority of the 119 workers at the mine were from North Korea. A visit by two local journalists indicated that the mine was not only hard to find but that it did not seem to be run and managed professionally. I note that this accident occurred before the March 2015 cut off date for the TIP 2015 evaluation.
The presence of North Korean workers in Sarawak was confirmed by the then Deputy Minister for Home Affairs, Wan Junaidi, shortly after the coal mining accident was reported. It was also confirmed to me in a parliamentary reply dated on the 17th of June, 2015, that 3 companies involved in construction and 1 in mining had received approval from the Human Resources Department in Sarawak to employ a total of 348 North Korean workers, out of which 287 permits had been used at the time of the parliamentary reply.
The use of North Korean forced labor abroad has been well documented. I hope that the exclusion of the possible presence of North Korean forced labor in Malaysia in the latest TIP 2015 report was not because of political expediency to allow Malaysia to enter into the TPP agreement at the end of this year. If this was the case, then it would call into question the accuracy of the TIP report and the commitment on the part of the US State Department to combat trafficking of persons in Malaysia and around the world.
Dr. Ong Kian Ming
Member of Parliament for Serdang