Friday, July 26, 2013

Putrajaya urged to do more to prevent custodial deaths

Putrajaya urged to do more to prevent custodial deaths
July 26, 2013
Malay Mail Online 
PETALING JAYA, July 26 — Global rights watchdog Amnesty International and local NGO Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) have jointly penned a lengthy note to Putrajaya, hoping to pressure the authorities into stepping up their game on preventing custodial deaths.

The letter, signed off by Amnesty’s Asia Pacific deputy director Isabelle Arradon and SUARAM’s executive director Nalini Elumalai, listed out 14 recommendations to check police abuses and ensure fair and equal treatment for all detainees, from the time of their arrests to their time spent in lock-up.
“Human rights should be at the core of police law, philosophy and practice,” they wrote in the five-page letter, which was addressed to Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and carbon copied to Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar.

“Amnesty International and Suaram believe that there is no conflict between human rights and effective policing. 

“Effective policing in Malaysia depends on respect for human rights and rule of law,” they added.
Malaysia was rocked by a spate of lockup deaths this year - 12 cases since January - casting more aspersions on the police force, which has already been struggling to deflect criticisms on its alleged failure bring down the country’s crime rate.

Angry Malaysians, lawmakers and civil society groups have been lobbying for the formation of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to check police abuse, insisting that this was the best way to keep these uniformed personnel accountable to their actions.

Amnesty and Suaram repeated the need for an independent police oversight body in their letter today, noting that the existing Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) has so far been unable to investigate all reports on custodial deaths or on alleged human rights violations by police officers.
The commission, which was created in 2009 to check abuses in 19 government agencies, is currently under major revamp by Putrajaya.

“It appears to be due, in part, to the lack of adequate resources for such a broad mandate. To date, the EAIC has not investigated any previous case of custodial deaths, and has only committed to investigating the deaths of N. Dhamendran and R. Jamesh Ramesh,” the rights groups said, referring to two lock-up death cases that occurred in May this year.

The groups also suggested that all “suspected” cases of human rights violations by police officers be subjected to “thorough, prompt and impartial” investigations and where there is sufficient evidence, criminal proceedings should be initiated.

To prevent torture or ill-treatment of detainees, Amnesty and Suaram said all members of Malaysia’s armed forces should be made to understand that such actions would never be tolerated.

They said all armed personnel should be fully trained in what it described as a “standard set of words” to ensure that the detainee’s rights are explained clearly and understood.

“Police officers should be issued with a card which lists arrest and custody rights of which they must inform all suspects and detainees at the time of arrest.

“All questioning sessions must be video or audio recorded and records kept and made available to detainees and their counsel in cases of complaints of torture or other ill-treatment,” the groups wrote in the letter.

At all times, data must be recorded, they added, in reference to the handling of a detainee from the time of arrest to the time in lock-up and when being brought to trial.

Information on the arrested person’s medical condition, time and date of release or transfer to any other detention facility, and time and dates of each visit (by detention officers, lawyers, doctors, family or friends) should also be recorded,” they wrote.

The letter also urged Putrajaya to consider ratifying international conventions on human rights like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and implementing global standards like the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Basic principles on use of force and firearms into police training and practice. 

“Our organisations sincerely hope that you will consider our recommendations, and we remain at your disposal should you have questions about any of the above.

“We look forward to the Home Ministry and Royal Malaysia Police’s constructive engagement with civil society,” Amnesty and Suaram said before signing off on the letter.

Since 2006, the Bar Council and civil society have been pushing for the implementation of the IPCMC — which was mooted by a royal commission led by former Chief Justice Tun Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah — but to no avail as it was shot down by the top brass of the police.

The Home Ministry told Parliament last month that 231 deaths in police custody have occurred from 2000 to May 2013.

It said 196 deaths were caused by illnesses like heart attacks, asthma and HIV, 29 by hanging, two by fights among inmates and another two by slipping on the floor in the lock-up.

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