12 December 1948
On 12 December 1948, British troops executed 24 unarmed labourers, after separating them from the women and children at a Malayan rubber plantation at Sungai Rimoh, near the small town of Batang Kali. The men were subjected to mock executions before being herded into a hut where they were shot down with automatic weapons. After murdering them, the soldiers then burned down the villagers’ homes.
The massacre occurred during a ‘counter-insurgency’ operation by a sixteen man patrol of the Scots Guards searching for communist insurgents, although in this instance not a single weapon or other evidence of insurgency had been found in the village. In initial reports the killings were misrepresented as soldiers having killed bandits who were trying to escape. It was also falsely claimed that weapons and explosives had been found in the village. Shortly afterwards, however, the plantation owner testified that all the men were of good character. The British government needed a new propaganda narrative and an initial inquiry set up by Sir Stafford Foster-Sutton, Malaya’s Attorney General, explained to the media that he was ‘absolutely satisfied a bona fide mistake had been made.’1 None of the alleged perpetrators were ever charged.
Another inquiry set up in the 1960s by Labour’s Defence Secretary, Denis Healey, revealed the some soldiers now admitted that they had been pressured into lying and that those who were reluctant to shoot the unarmed men they were given the option of not participating in their murder. The investigation, however, was soon dropped in 1970 when a Conservative Government took office. Then in 1993, the Foreign Office pressured Malaysia’s High Commissioner to halt a Malaysian police investigation into the murders. After years of subsequent activism, lobbying and legal action, the High Court in London finally ruled in 2012 that Britain was responsible for the massacre, but three years later, in 2015, Britain’s supreme court ruled that, despite evidence that it may have been a war crime, the government was not obliged to set up a public inquiry, because the killings had occurred a long time ago.2
- Foster-Sutton cited in ‘A lesson for British Army’s murderers, and all others… the truth will out in end,’ The Belfast Telegraph, 1 December 2015.
- Owen Bowcott, ‘Relatives lose fight for inquiry into 1948 Batang Kali “massacre,”” The Guardian, 25 November 2015, accessed online at url https://www.theguardian.com/law/2015/nov/25/relatives-lose-fight-for-inquiry-into-1948-batang-kali-massacre
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