Media Statement (2) by Lim Kit Siang in Petaling Jaya on Friday, 31st July 2009:
Will recruitment of Rela personnel to help police to keep streets safe be a cure which is worse than the disease if Rela personnel are not sensitized about the importance of human rights?
Home Minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said yesterday that the best from the civil Defence Department and Rela have been enlisted to help police keep the streets safer and that 254 – 115 from the Civil Defence and 139 from Rela – had been shortlisted from 1,000 applicants last week.
The recruitment of Rela personnel to help police to keep streets safe raises public fear whether Rela human rights abuses against immigrants will now extend to ordinary Malaysians.
Rela human rights abuses have become so notorious not only locally but also internationally that human rights organizations local and abroad have called for Rela’s disbandment.
The Malaysian Bar for instance had at its annual general meeting in 2007 unanimously called for Rela’s disbandment as it had attracted much public outcry over maltreatment of migrants with allegations of torture and even the causing of death by volunteer RELA personnel who receive payment of RM80-00 for each undocumented migrant they managed to catch.
Internationally, the Human Rights Watch had also called for the immediate dissolution of Rela for being responsible for numerous cases of illegal detentions, unlawful use of force and extortion.
The almost half a million Rela volunteers authorized by the government to help maintain public order, primarily through the apprehension of undocumented migrant workers have often been in the eye of public storm and outrage because of their unnecessary use of force and illegal policing practices.
Allegations against Rela abuses can be summed up thus - fully uniformed, armed, and unaccompanied by police or immigration officers, they break into migrant lodgings in the middle of the night without warrants, brutalize inhabitants, extort money, and confiscate cell phones, clothing, jewelry, and household goods, before handcuffing migrants and transporting them to detention camps for “illegal immigrants.”
Hishammuddin’s reference to “the best from Rela’” being enlisted to help police keep the streets safe does not inspire confidence as by the “best”, Hishammuddin does not mean their having the necessary mindset of being sensitive to the human rights of Malaysians.
Today’s Star explained what Hishammuddin meant by enlisting the “best” from Rela, as Rela director-general Datuk Zaidon Asmuni revealed that police have rejected more than two-thirds of the 500 personnel offered by Rela to assist in crime prevention after most were found to be overweight and unfit to undergo Police voluntary reserve training.
Zaidon said that only 142 out of the 500 were chosen to undergo the two-week training stint while the rest were rejected due to poor fitness.
But have these Rela personnel been given the proper training so to have the requisite mindset and grounding not only to keep the streets safe from crime but protect the residents from human rights violations?
The unending catalogue of deaths in police, immigration and even MACC custody like Teoh Beng Hock, A. Kugan and R Gunasegaran raises grave question about the failure of the authorities to sensitise all police and enforcement agencies and personnel about the paramount importance of their role to respect and protect human rights.
Although the Prime Minisiter, Datuk Seri Najib Razak has announced the reduction of the street crime rate by 20 per cent in the next 18 months as the first of his six National Key Result Areas (KRAs), Hishammuddin seems to have totally ignored the critical importance of concepts of democratic and community policing which is the only surety that the authorities have not come up with a cure which is worse than the disease with the recruitment of Rela personnel to help the police to keep the streets safe from crime.
*Lim Kit Siang, DAP Parliamentary leader & MP for Ipoh Timor