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Batang Kali massacre

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Title: Batang Kali massacre  
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Subject: Death of Lau Yew, Assassination of Sir Henry Gurney, 1948 in Malaya, History of Selangor, Malayan Emergency
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Batang Kali massacre

The Batang Kali massacre was the killing of 24 unarmed villagers by British troops on 12 December 1948 during the Malayan Emergency. The incident occurred during counter-insurgency operations against Malay and Chinese communists in Malaya - then a colony of the British Crown. It is sometimes described as "Britain's My Lai".[1][2]

Despite several investigations by the British government since the 1950s, and a re-examination of the evidence by the Royal Malaysia Police between 1993 and 1997, no charges have ever been brought against any of the alleged perpetrators.[3]


After World War II, the British returned to Malaya to recover control from Japanese military forces. During the war the British government supported guerrillas that continued to fight in its colony against the Japanese forces. But following VE Day in August 1945, many resistance units did not completely disband. These groups became the foundation for the independence movement against British rule in Malaya.

Some guerrillas turned from agitation to communism and began targeting British commercial interests in the colony by attacking rubber plantations and tin mines. By June 1948, escalating violence and the assassinations of several prominent British landowners led colonial authorities in Malaya to declare an "Emergency". This gave the Malay police and government greater powers and flexibility in combating the insurgents. Although the British had extensive experience in jungle warfare, most recently in the Burma Campaign during World War II, military leaders had not formalized this experience into a specific jungle warfare curriculum.[4]

As the Malayan conflict continued, the British Army refined its military tactics in jungle conditions. But training, especially in in the early days of the Emergency, exposed many British soldiers to the harshness of combat in tropical environments, and they received almost no training about observing the laws of war. The Basic Military Training curriculum in Malaya focused on 'drill, weapons training, gas training, physical training, education, health and religious training'. The newly founded United Nations was mentioned but no discussion of international protocols on the treatment of non-combatants. Even in documents about officer training there is no mention given to civilians.

Michael Gilbert, a member of the Suffolk Regiment, said his training "[was] teaching you how to march, how to handle a rifle, and how to behave in a soldierly manner." Training focused primarily on the practical skills needed in conventional combat not those needed in policing counterinsurgency operations where the presence of civilians could complicate tactical decisions. Rather than officers training their soldiers in the principles of the laws of war, many soldiers noted that the purpose of basic training in Malaya seemed to be to break down any individual resistance to obeying orders. Raymond Burdett, another member of the Suffolk Regiment, reflected on his experience; he said the trainers sought "to get us to follow instructions, not to question commands." Basic training for these troops focused on infantry skills, not their ability to judge the appropriateness of orders in the context of international law.[4]


In December 1948, 7th Platoon, G Company, 2nd Scots Guards surrounded a rubber plantation at Sungai Rimoh near Batang Kali in Selangor. The civilians were then rounded up by the British soldiers. The men were separated from the women and children for interrogation. In total 24 unarmed men from the village were killed by automatic gun fire before their homes were set on fire. The only adult male survivor of the killings was a man named Chong Hong who was in his 20s at the time. He fainted and was presumed dead. Other eyewitnesses included the victims' spouses and children such as Tham Yong, aged 17 and Loh Ah Choy, who was aged seven at the time.

Subsequent developments

In the 1960s, Denis Healey, the British Defence Secretary instructed Scotland Yard to set up a special task force (led by Frank Williams) to investigate the matter. An alleged lack of evidence gave the incoming Conservative government an excuse to drop the investigation in 1970.

On 9 September 1992, a BBC documentary, an investigative report into the massacre entitled "In Cold Blood" was aired in the United Kingdom and revealed fresh evidence. The documentary included accounts from witnesses and survivors, including confessions of an ex-Scots Guards soldier and interviews with the Scotland Yard police officers who had investigated the case in 1970.

On 8 June 1993 with the help of the MCA Legal Bureau, a petition was presented to Queen Elizabeth II asking that justice be done.

On 14 July 1993 a police report was lodged by three survivors, accompanied by the MCA Public Service and Complaints Bureau Chief Michael Chong.

On 18 September 1993, however, Gavin Hewitt (Head of South East Asia Department of the Foreign Office, UK) stated that "No new evidence has been uncovered by the British authorities to warrant the setting up of another official inquiry into the alleged massacre of 24 villagers in Batang Kali…"

On 30 December 1997, an investigation report was submitted to the Royal Malaysian Police Jabatan Siasatan Jenayah Bukit Aman. The case was closed on the grounds of insufficient evidence for prosecution.

On 13 July 2004, the DAP, a Malaysian political party, raised the Batang Kali massacre in the Malaysian Parliament.

On 25 March 2008, the family members of the massacre victims and several NGOs formed an 'Action Committee Condemning the Batang Kali Massacre' and submitted a petition to the British High Commission in Malaysia. The petition seeks official apology, compensation for the family members of the 24 massacre victims and financial contribution towards the educational and cultural development of the Ulu Yam community.

On 30 January 2009, the Foreign Office in Britain rejected a call for an inquiry into the massacre of villagers.[5] On 24 April 2009, the British government announced that it was reconsidering this decision.[6] In January 2012, lawyers for the victims and their families were given Foreign Office correspondence and Cabinet Office guidance relating to the incident.[7]

On 30 April 2009, The Independent reported that the British government bowed to legal action and agreed to reinvestigate the massacre.[8] Secret papers uncovered by Mrs. Tham's solicitors, Bindmans, now show that the colonial Attorney General who exonerated the British troops of any wrongdoing at the time privately believed that mass public executions might deter other insurgents. A second document reveals that officials at the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur had briefed ministers that there was little point in Scotland Yard officers interviewing eyewitnesses in the 1970s because Malaysian villagers were untrustworthy, motivated by compensation and it was "doubtful" they could recall events 22 years earlier.

On 2 April 2010, Tham Yong, 78, the last Malaysian adult witness to the alleged massacre of 24 unarmed villagers by British troops in 1948, died, leaving the campaign for an official investigation uncertain.

Judicial review

Malaysian victims unsuccessfully petitioned the British monarch - Elizabeth II - to re-open an inquiry into the massacre in 1993 and in 2004. They tried again in 2008 and didn't receive a reply from the British government until 2011 when the High Court agreed to review the case.[9]

In May 2012 the judicial review on the British government's position was held at the High Court in London.[10] On 4 September 2012, the High Court's judges in London upheld a government decision not to hold a public hearing into the killing.[3] The Court also ruled that Britain was responsible for the killing in Batang Kali. In its written judgement, it said, "There is evidence that supports a deliberate execution of the 24 civilians at Batang Kali."[11]

In March 2014, the UK's Court of Appeal announced it would make a ruling on whether a public enquiry will be held into the killings. The move has been welcomed by families of the plantation workers who died at Batang Kali. The British government had earlier rejected calls for a public hearing - a decision that was upheld by the High Court in September 2012.[12]

See also


  1. ^ Townsend, Mark (9 April 2011). "New documents reveal cover-up of 1948 British 'massacre' of villagers in Malaya". London:  
  2. ^ Hale, Christopher (1 October 2013). Massacre in Malaya : exposing Britain's My Lai. Stroud: The History Press.  
  3. ^ a b "Malaysian lose fight for 1948 'massacre' inquiry". BBC News. 4 September 2012. Retrieved 4 September 2012. 
  4. ^ a b The Other Forgotten War: Understanding atrocities during the Malayan Emergency
  5. ^ UK rejects massacre inquiry call, UK: BBC News, January 30, 2009 .
  6. ^ Malay massacre evidence to be reviewed by the UK government, UK: BBC News, April 28, 2009 .
  7. ^ Bowcott, Owen (26 January 2012). "'"Batang Kali relatives edge closer to the truth about 'Britain's My Lai massacre. The Guardian (London). Retrieved 27 January 2012. 
  8. ^ Verkaik, Robert (April 30, 2009), 60 years on, Malaya massacre by British troops to be investigated, Home news, London: The Independent .
  9. ^ Engelhart, Katie (December 2012). "Rule Britannia: Empire on Trial", World Policy Journal.
  10. ^ "Malayan 'massacre' families seek UK inquiry".  
  11. ^ "High Court ruling". Reuters. 4 September 2012. 
  12. ^ "'"Court of Appeal judges to rule on 1948 Malaya 'massacre.  

Further reading

  • Short, Anthony. (2010, November). The Malayan Emergency and the Batang Kali Incident. Asian Affairs, 41:3, 337–354. Abstract, retrieved December 30, 2010.
  • Ward, Ian, and Norma Miraflor. (2009). Slaughter and Deception at Batang Kali. Singapore: Media Masters.

External links

  • Condemning Batang Kali Massacre Signature Campaign and Legal Action against the British Government
  • Malaysian account of massacre
  • A Scottish viewpoint
  • BBC Malaysia Correspondent's account
  • Morning Star newspaper feature 'A murder revisited'

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