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Politics: Reform Police, Stop Custodial Abuse Says Panel

Contributed by Anonymous on Tuesday, January 24 @ 01:45:03 CST

National: PoliticsBaradan Kuppusamy

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 23, 06(IPS) - An independent commission, that probed abuse of power in the police force, has returned a guilty verdict in a 318-page report that charged Malaysian police with insensitivity to human dignity and a mindset that is resistant to change.

The five-member commission, headed by respected former chief justice Mohamed Dzaiddin, made a slew of recommendations including an immediate ban on a 150-year-old practice of stripping detainees and forcing them to do squats, ostensibly to eject objects secreted in private parts.

Another key recommendation of the report, released on Monday, is for the government to set up an independent ‘oversight commission’ to investigate complaints against the police and punish offenders.

However, opposition lawmakers and human rights activists worry the government lacks the political will to implement the recommendations.

"We fear this and other inquiry reports recommending urgent changes will just sit on the shelf and gather dust if the political will is lacking to implement them," parliamentary opposition leader Lim Kit Siang told IPS.

"The police force has failed in its duty as law enforcer and peacekeeper of the nation. There is overall lack of publicly accessible information on the Standard Operating Procedures of the force, the precise scope of its power over detainees, its methods of internal governance as well as recourse available to those who wish to make complaints against police officers," the report said.

The report called for a major "shift" in the mindset of serving officers so that there is "unwavering commitment to work towards a police culture that is more effective, responsibility driven and human rights sensitive."

The commission was set to probe police abuse in December following a national outcry against the custodial abuse of a young woman, who was made to strip naked and do squats, that was recorded on video.

Police claimed this was standard procedure, inherited from British colonials a century ago, but medical experts testified to the commission that the procedure was medically untenable and easily abused.

A 70- second clip of the abuse caused an outburst of anger when it was made public by opposition parliamentarian Teresa Kok. The clip severely embarrassed the government and soured the country’s ties with China when the victim was initially identified as a Chinese national.

China demanded apology and lodged a formal protest and Malaysia even sent a team to Beijing to mend fences. But the inquiry panel later established that the victim was ethnic Malay and a local.

The panel said squats were a degrading and humiliating experience for female detainees and recommended a total makeover of police procedure of arrest, detention and search with emphasis on protecting the rights and dignity of detained persons.

Among these:

- A code of practice on bodily search as subsidiary legislation under the Criminal Procedure Code.

- Prohibition of total exposure of a person’s body

- Body scanners be installed in police stations.

- Educate the public of their personal rights during investigations through public campaigns and other means including through websites.

- To emphasize the importance of human rights in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Instruments and Shariah principles through an increase in training and awareness programs in the force.

In recent years, Malaysian police have come under increased public scrutiny following a rise in crime, increase in custodial deaths and charges of corruption and inefficiency. Judges have acquitted persons accused of serious crimes citing shoddy investigation, incompetence and corruption as reasons for the acquittal.

Members of the public and human rights activists had long demanded a major shake-up of the 80,000 strong force that is dominated by indigenous Malays who form 50 percent of Malaysia’s 25 million people. The other major groups are ethnic Chinese and Indians who form 25 percent and seven percent of the population, respectively.

"The police must also accept the recommendations and be willing to change their ways," Lim said, adding that this was important if the force was to ‘’regain the trust, confidence and respect of the people’’.

There is skepticism because a royal commission had probed the police force last year and recommended some 125 steps to shake up the corrupt and inefficient force, but few of the steps were implemented.

"It requires a lot of political will to make the changes and our police force is ingrained in their methods and very resistant to change," said Yap Swee Seng, executive director of SUARAM, a leading non-government organisation that works on human rights issues.

"It is important to ensure police do not violate human rights when they carry out their duties. And there must be checks and balances to ensure no abuse of power happens. If it happens we must have an oversight commission to punish offenders," Yap said.

The report also noted a serious lack of publicly accessible information on police procedure, its methods of internal governance as well as recourse available to those who wish to make complaints against police officers.

"This deficiency points towards a lack of transparency and accountability of the police to the Malaysian public -- not just in terms of bodily searches carried out on detainees but also in its very function as law enforcer and peace keeper of the nation," the report said.

(END/2006)

 
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