IPCMC must prioritise deaths in custody

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 21 Jul 2019

WHILE it is good to see a Bill for the establishment of the long-awaited Independent Police Complaints of Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) on Parliament’s agenda, it seems to miss the wood for the trees!

Practically the entire Bill is taken up with all manner of police misconduct while deaths in custody is only dealt with casually under “Part VIII: Miscellaneous: “47. The police force shall refer to the Commission any incident which has resulted in grievous hurt or death to any person under the detention or custody of the police force.”

Certainly, there are many complaints of corruption and other forms of misconduct by the police but the elephant in the room is surely deaths in custody. The cases that Malaysians demand justice for include those concerning the deaths of Teoh Beng Hock and the enforced disappearance of Pastor Koh, Amri Che Mat and others. Surely, the Pakatan Harapan government is aware of that with all the erstwhile reformers in the government?

From 2011 to 2018, there were a total of 104 deaths in custody: 56 “medical” cases, eight “suicides”, two “accidents”, four by “blunt force trauma”, and 34 “unknown”. These deaths in custody according to ethnicity were as follows: 28 Malay, 14 Chinese, 31 Indian, five Others and 12 foreigners.

In the 20 years of Suaram (Suara Rakyat Malaysia) monitoring and documentation, torture has been and remains a well-documented issue in Malaysia. Incidents of physical violence inflicted upon detainees under remand or during investigation are prevalent, especially when there are elements of chain remand (where a suspect is rearrested several times) or detention under security laws. The IPCMC Bill must address this outrage.

Then there are the persistent cases of fatal police shootings: In a reply to Parliament on Oct 23, 2012, then Home Minister Hisham-muddin Hussein revealed that the police shot dead 298 “criminals” between January 2007 and August 2012. In April 1999, the government revealed that there had been 635 deaths by police shootings in the previous 10 years.

I had occasion to witness the British Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) in action a few years ago when I was in Britain. A siege occurred when police cornered a gunman who had been shooting at people. It was a day-long siege and the gunman was shot by police marksmen in the end. The moment the man was shot, the special force from the IPCC took over and all the police who had taken part in the siege had to withdraw forthwith to allow the IPCC to investigate any wrong-

doing by the police.

Our IPCMC must have a similar standard operating procedure. The moment commission members know of a death at the hands of the police or any enforcement agency, a special force must swing into action immediately to investigate and collect evidence. They do not wait for a bunch of NGOs to shame them into action, or exhume the victim after months of inactivity as in Teoh’s case and the Wang Kelian cases.

Recent altercations involving fatalities in “racial” incidents such as at KL’s Kampung Medan in 2001 and more recently at Seafield, Selangor, show the need for a “multiethnic” composition in this proposed rapid deployment force.

The IPCMC Bill currently before the Parliament merely allows for officers of the Commission to interrogate and demand documents, etc, and then submit their findings to the Commission. Clearly, the IPCMC under consideration is more concerned with complaints such as corruption and such other manner of misconduct while deaths in custody, torture and other forms of ill-

treatment are merely “miscellaneous” considerations in S.47.

Lastly, while section S.58 confines the IPCMC only to the Royal Malaysian Police, we consider it a matter of urgency to include all enforcement agencies under its ambit. Otherwise, the tragedy that befell Teoh 10 years ago will have to wait many more years before a different Commission is set up.

Heaven forbid!

Dr Kua Kia Soong is the adviser of human rights NGO Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram). The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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