A reminder to all of the tragedy at Batang Kali, and how we continue to remember those lives unjustly taken.
Youngsters dislike history. To be frank, we don’t bother with “his-story” because we have nothing to do with it. However, some historic injustices which do not often surface have to be revealed, especially when it involves the relationship between Great Britain and Her Majesty’s previous colony – our beloved Malaysia. (In case you have forgotten secondary school history lessons, Malaysia formerly was known as “the Federation of Malaya”.)
This story begins with a group of 24 unarmed Batang Kali (located at Ulu Yam) male villagers who were shot dead by the Second Battalion of the Scot Guards. They were deployed to the said village to combat an insurgency and threat of communism at that point in time. Scot Guards were under the command and control of the British Army, who claimed that the twenty-four innocent men were part of the communists or bandits, and as such were subjected to cruel and deliberate execution at the will of the Scot Guards.
Up till this stage of the story, I try to KISS. (Keep It Short & Simple)
The resulting widows and fatherless children sought help from the Chinese Consular-General to communicate the unlawful killings to the British Government. The outcome of this was two uncompleted investigations, with the British Government never once hesitating to maintain its initial account of events, regardless of repeated waves of petitions, demonstrations and even an official meeting with Her Majesty’s High Commissioner at Jalan Ampang. The victims’ families demanded for a genuine apology, and urged the British Government to admit to the true facts of history.
Despite the extreme cost of legal services to be carried out and the potential claims to be made by UK’s Treasury Solicitor, the claimants were encouraged by the British Ministers’ attempts to evade legal responsibility for the killings by arguing that the Selangor Sultan was the one who commanded the troops. Thus, with the aid of Bindmans LLP and legal aid from the UK, the claimants filed for a judicial review of the British Government’s position on the unlawful killings.
This made me recall my first subject I learned in law – UK’s Public Law (formerly known as Constitutional and Administrative Law). I learnt numerous human rights cases, from lower courts up to the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg. I understood the importance of and respected the spirit of the Human Rights Act 1998.
But today, I received a disappointing judgement from the Queens Bench Division’s President – Sir John Thomas – and Mr Justice Treacy. Truth is, we have lost the battle. The Court refused to carry out a full inquiry on the massacre. However on a brighter note, it may be said that our efforts paid off in the sense that the Court acknowledged and admitted certain key facts, which overturned the untruthful allegations made by the Ministers. The twenty-four men were neither communists nor bandits. Although the Court gave the red light to establishing a public inquiry, the Judges decisively found the British Government to be responsible for the deaths.
Human rights is not an abstract end-product; it is a spirit and legal morale to be upheld by everyone. I learnt that one of the victims was found beheaded, and felt much sympathy towards his family. It is noted that the British Government apologized for the Bloody Sunday incident, but not for Batang Kali. Although the Court rejected the claimants’ application on technical grounds, they were never deprived of alternatives as the Court of Appeal would be the next option.
This is the first time Malaysians challenged a court case without any help from the government.
And the battle will be continued.
P.S. The author is attached with the victims’ families’ legal representative – Messrs Halim Hong & Quek.