Time right to set up police watchdog

“THIS is a country that is governed by the rule of law not the jungle. You cannot abduct people in broad daylight, in circumstances like this. This cannot occur in a civilised society and there must be repercussions.”

Lawyer Gurdial Singh Nijhar spoke for a lot of us when he commented on the chilling findings of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) inquiry on Wednesday. Actually “chilling” may not be the right adjective to use here.

Horrifying would be more appropriate.

After an extensive public inquiry, Suhakam concluded that the police were behind the disappearance of social activist Amri Che Mat and Pastor Raymond Koh.

Inquiry panel chairman Datuk Mah Weng Kwai said the both of them were victims of enforced disappearances and on the balance of probability, were abducted by state agents, namely the Special Branch, Bukit Aman.

The inquiry took place across a span of 45 days, beginning on Oct 19, 2017, and ending with oral submissions on March 6, 2019.

Altogether, 40 witnesses, including from the police and religious authorities, were called up to give their testimony.

Today marks 862 days since Amri disappeared 500m from his house in Perlis, and 782 days since Koh was seen abducted off a street in Petaling Jaya.

Now it’s important to note here that Suhakam is not a non-governmental organisation. It was established by the Malaysian Parliament under the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999, and began its work in April 2000.

Its mandate is to promote human rights education, advise on legislation and policy, and conduct investigations.

The shockwave from these findings are going to be far-reaching. Let that be of no doubt.

The police force is sworn to protect and serve the public. Kidnapping innocent civilians is certainly not part of the force’s standard operating procedure.

We shouldn’t have to fear the people that are sworn to protect us, therefore, the abuse of this authority is totally unacceptable.

Gurdial, the lawyer for Koh’s family, has asked the police to answer the serious allegations made against them in Suhakam’s decision.

The police were conspicuous in their absence from the inquiry on Wednesday, despite attending previous hearings.

Thus far, there has been no response from the senior hierarchy, other than to say it would be premature to comment without studying the findings further.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said that Suhakam needs to have evidence to support their public inquiry findings.

“This (investigation on the disappearance of the two men) needs evidence. I do not know if they have evidence to prove that this is what happened.

“If they have evidence, we have to take it up,” Dr Mahathir added.

This latest blackmark for the force has renewed calls for an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC).

The Royal Malaysian Police has long withstood the setting up of an IPCMC.

This police oversight body was first proposed by the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) to improve the police force in 2005, following a spate of deaths in custody.

One of the 125 recommendations by the RCI was for an IPCMC to be set up, which would be independent and be able to investigate police misconduct, as well as take necessary action.

The establishment of the IPCMC was also one of the pledges in Pakatan Harapan’s manifesto for the 14th General Election.

Last September, Dr Mahathir said that Malaysia would finally establish the IPCMC.

He was quoted then as saying that there were many complaints against the police force and the government wanted to ensure the police would “clean up” their act.

“We will work hard to clean up the police force and ensure they receive proper treatment as police officers. At the same time, they must also work hard to clean themselves up,” he said.

But the findings of the Suhakam inquiry shows that the setting up of this commission should be done without further delay so there is an independent body with close oversight of police functions.

Three NGOs, the Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (Proham), G25 and the National Patriots Association have joined the call the IPCMC to be established as soon as possible.

G25 and Patriot also expressed their concerns that the findings had further eroded public confidence in the police.

“While we appreciate the sacrifice and dedication of our security forces to their duty, they must also be made accountable for (any) miscarriage of justice.

“However painful this episode of forced disappearance may have been, what is most important for our society and nation and, particularly for the police force, is to move on,” they said in a statement.

However, it is more than that. The family of the victims of these abductions deserve closure and so does the public.

The perpetrators of the kidnappings must be identified and brought to justice.

The writer believes that the issue now is: Who polices the policemen? The momentum to improve governance and transparency must permeate the police force.

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