Campaigning Lawyers Give a Guarded Welcome to Government Shift on Massacre Inquiry

Source: http://www.bindmans.com/index.php?id=513

Lawyers in Malaysia and a UK based legal team led by Bindmans have responded to a government offer to reconsider its position on a public inquiry into the unexplained killing of 24 unarmed villagers by British troops in 1948 Colonial Malaya. The shift was prompted by a letter before claim sent on behalf of one of the massacre’s survivors, 78 year old Mrs Tham Yong. Her fiancé was one of these killed by the troops. The government has said it will be reconsidering its position on an inquiry, but not when a decision will be made nor whether reparations, which Mrs Tham’s solicitors say are required under international law, should be paid. 

Speaking on behalf of the Action Committee Condemning the Batang Kali Massacre, campaigning Malaysian lawyer Ngee Meng Quek commented:

“There is an absolute urgency on this matter as most of the witnesses may not be able to wait for justice to be restored. For example, one of the eye witnesses, Wong Kum Sooi, who was 11 at time of killings, passed away on last Friday. He was the eldest son of Huang Ren and nephew to Huang De-Feng, both of whom were killed by the British Army on 12 December 1948 at Batang Kali. Justice delayed is none other than justice denied. In the circumstances, the Committee urges the Secretaries of State involved to agree to the request of the surviving families for an inquiry consistent with international humanitarian standards.”

 

John Halford of Bindmans, who acts for Mrs Yong, along with fellow partner Stephen Grosz, said:

“Over sixty years on, the underlying reason why 24 unarmed men were killed at Batang Kali is unknown. There has been no apology, much less compensation. The closest thing we have to a meaningful official explanation is the off hand comment in 1970 by a senior colonial official that an ‘honest mistake’ was made. The government’s response to the threat of a legal challenge to this manifest injustice is a tiny step in the right direction, but what is called for is something far more decisive, expeditious and principled. Mrs Tham and others who are directly affected, including the surviving soldiers, are now in limbo because the government’s solicitors have suggested that a ‘few months’ will be spent deciding what to do next. We say that there can and should be a full and reasoned decision made within a matter of weeks on the important matters we have raised on our client’s behalf. There can be only one lawful decision as a result of the reconsideration exercise the government has proposed: to hold an inquiry and make reparations either immediately or in the light of that inquiry’s findings.”

Mr Halford added that:

“the confidential government records we have unearthed reveal that when this matter was reported in the 1970s, there was a gulf between the public presentation of the issue and the concerns being expressed behind closed ministry and barrack doors. Officials accepted then that an independent inquiry might well be the only way forward to quell public unease, yet this appears to have been given no further consideration. Disturbingly, efforts were made to dissuade an elite team of British detectives from interviewing to Malaysian eyewitnesses because officials believed they had inherently unreliable memories. These detectives were likewise deprived of the opportunity to interview key witnesses in the UK. The oldest of the files reveal that the very person charged in 1948 with investigating the killings believed that there was ‘something to be said’ for public executions as a legitimate means to demoralise those involved in the insurgency.”

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