Families of Batang Kali victims get day in UK court after 64 years

By Ida Lim
May 08, 2012

KUALA LUMPUR, May 8 — Sixty-four years after 16 men from G Company of the 2nd Scots Guards shot and killed 24 villagers in what is now called the 1948 Batang Kali massacre, three surviving septuagenarian family members of those killed will sit in a London High Court today to ask for the first complete investigation of the alleged atrocity.

The three who went to the UK for the hearing – Lim Ah Yin, 76, Loh Ah Choi, 71, and Chong Koon Ying, 73 – are not trying to seek compensation or court charges of the soldiers who had executed the villagers.

They want a judicial review of the British government’s 1970 decision to not conduct a public inquiry.

“I hope the British government will give me fairness – I would like an apology for what happened,” Lim was quoted as saying by the UK daily The Independent.

“Even as I recall today what happened, I still feel angry. There was no reason for those men to be killed,” Lim, who was 11 at the time of the killings, said.

“My father was innocent and yet he was detained… and he was shot. We were being driven away when I heard shots. At the same time the village was being burnt,” she was also reported as saying.

She added, “A week later we were allowed to return to collect the bodies. The smell was terrible, there were maggots. We found my father, his face was swollen and he had been shot in the chest.”

Loh was 11 when his uncle was killed, while Chong was nine when her father was executed.

New evidence of the Batang Kali killings will be brought up in the UK High Court during the two-day long hearing, the UK newspaper reported.

The review will examine whether the British Secretaries of State for Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office acted lawfully when they refused last November to hold a public inquiry into both the killings and their cover-up, and to make any form of reparation to the victims’ families.

The victims’ families have long been seeking a proper explanation, apology and reparation for the killings.

The Batang Kali massacre took place on December 12, 1948 during British military operations against the communists in the post- World War II Malayan Emergency.

British troops surrounded a rubber estate in Sungai Rimoh, Batang Kali, and shot dead 24 villagers before setting fire to the village.

Former British Defence Secretary Denis Healey had instructed Scotland Yard to set up a special task team to investigate the matter. However, the incoming Conservative government chose to drop the investigation in 1970 due to an ostensible lack of evidence.

The British government’s official version of the Batang Kali massacre is that the unarmed villagers had been shot while they were trying to escape.

Secret documents recently revealed that Britain introduced new rules empowering its troops to use “lethal force” in Malaysia weeks after the massacre of 24 villagers in Batang Kali, Selangor in 1948.

Campaigners for the families of the massacre victims claim that secret Foreign Office papers obtained reveal that the emergency law, which was approved by Sir Alec Newboult, chief secretary of what was then Malaya, immunised “those involved in the killings”.

They were quoted by UK newspaper The Scotsman as saying the secret papers were introduced on January 20, 1949, less than a month after the massacre, which allowed troops to use “lethal weapons” with the regulation including the power to cover previous incidents.

“This law was carefully crafted to immunise those involved in the killings from the legal consequences of their actions.

“It was an attempt to use the statute book to excuse and legitimise an atrocity,” John Halford, the solicitor for the victims’ families was quoted by The Scotsman as saying.

“It was a massacre of 24 unarmed people who weren’t in any sense combatants, weren’t offering any kind of threat to the British troops who killed them,” Halford was quoted as saying by the UK newspaper The Guardian today.

Halford said, “The truth is that these people were killed ruthlessly…by British troops, probably in reprisal for things that had happened earlier on in the Malayan emergency, even though those killed weren’t responsible in any way for that.”

“What followed was a cover-up that has lasted the following 60 years, where the British government has denied that anything untoward happened at all.”

Halford added that “officials…have conspired to maintain the official account and suppress that very basic truth that these killings were unlawful and could never be justified.”

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokeswoman told The Guardian that  “this event happened over 60 years ago. Accounts of what happened conflict and virtually all the witnesses are dead.”

“In these circumstances it is very unlikely that a public inquiry could come up with recommendations which would help to prevent any recurrence,” she added.