Judicial review on Batang Kali massacre
Posted on June 10, 2012, Sunday
THE Batang Kali massacre has made the news after a dormancy lasting over six decades.
The incident is said to have occurred in December 1948 during the post-World War Two Emergency in Malaya when 14 soldiers from the Scots Guards allegedly carried out a massacre of villagers and burned their settlement at a rubber plantation in Sungai Rimoh, Batang Kali, Selangor.
More than 60 years later, surviving descendants of the victims went to London recently to try to get to the bottom of the killings by seeking a judicial review on why an inquiry into the events at Batang Kali had not been taken up by the British government.
According to authoritative quarters, the official explanation given was that the victims were communists or sympathisers who were trying to escape but other accounts that have since surfaced offered a different version – that of an alleged “mass killing without cause”.
The massacre was given wide coverage in 1970 when a British newspaper ran a story of the killings and published sworn affidavits by several soldiers involved who admitted there had been such an incident at Batang Kali.
The revelations sparked a public outcry in Britain. Six of the eight soldiers interviewed reportedly corroborated accounts that the villagers had been unlawfully killed. But a promised investigation by the then Labour government was abruptly put off in 1970 after a change in government.
The Batang Kali incident has been compared to My Lai, the village wiped out by American soldiers during the Vietnam War. Supporters of the Batang Kali families held a demonstration during British Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to Malaysia last month.
Lawyers, representing families of the victims, said they were challenging the decision “not to hold a public inquiry into what happened at Batang Kali or into the coverup of what happened in the years that followed”.
Although thousands of classified documents on Britain’s post-imperial history were made public by the UK government recently, those relating to the Batang Kali massacre appeared to be missing.
Lawyers of the families said there had clearly been a mass violation of human rights at the hands of British soldiers that had never been accepted by the government, adding that there had never been an apology to the victims or their family members.
Last November, the British government refused to hold a formal probe into the massacre. At one point, Britian opened an inquiry into the killings but the authorities dropped it in 1970 due to what they said was a lack of evidence.
The British Foreign Office pointed out at the time that a lapse of more than 60 years since the incident could render an investigation ineffective.
However, the Action Committee Condemning the Batang Kali Massacre countered that while the incident may have happened over six decades ago, there are now technologies available – such as forensic tests – to shed further light on it.
The Committee had petitioned the British government twice – first in March 2008 via the High Commission in Malaysia and another in November 2010 addressed to the British monarch.
The first petition had sought an apology as well as compensation of 80 million pounds but according to the Committee, monetary gain was not central to the issue.
Although several of the Scots Guards in the patrol that day are still alive, lawyers of the families said “the right remedy now is not for anyone to be prosecuted as the families just wanted the truth and the government to acknowledge they were responsible.”
Lately, families of the victims won a legal respite when in an unprecedented breakthrough, they, through their lawyers, got a chance to argue their case in a British court.
If it was established that a massacre had taken place, then it would be for the British government to decide whether it ought to compensate the families. But in essence, the judicial review is about “properly exposing what happened as being wrong and unjustifiable.”
The families said they just wanted an apology from the British government but any raparation would be a bonus – and they plan to donate the sum to schools and the community.
The London High Court is expected to announce its decision on the judicial review in late July or early August.
Needless to say, the decision will be keenly awaited and, hopefully also bring closure not only for the decades-old case but the families as well.