BY THULSI MANOGARAN
On 30 May 2015, the Malaysian Bar Council Task Force on the IPCMC and HAKAM jointly organised a forum entitled “Rogue Cops: Workable Solutions – Police Accountability in Malaysia”. The forum was held at the Raja Aziz Auditorium in Kuala Lumpur. HAKAM and the Malaysian Bar saw it fit to resuscitate the findings of the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on the Police. One of the major proposals made by the commission is for the establishment of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC).
Basic rights of the Malaysian people and foreigners have been trampled upon far too many times by the very people who are entrusted to care for our rights. This is not merely an allegation built on prejudice or bias against the police force. While society recognises that not all cops are rogue cops, this is not a trivial personalised battle. It has evolved into a systemic problem plaguing the entire force.
Even expert bodies have relented the same. The Human Rights Watch quoted in their report titled “No Answers, No Apologies” that “Human Rights Watch research found problems much more significant than mistakes or a few ineffectual officers. The serious rights abuses documented in this report point instead to structural problems that need to be addressed. Without rigorous investigation of alleged police abuse cases, those problems cannot be properly identified or tracked. Despite increasing public backlash, neither police leaders nor the civilian authorities who oversee their actions have made a genuine commitment to bringing about needed reform in police policy and practice.“
Hence the forum was set to hear from eminent speakers knowledgeable in the subject matter to either support or oppose the formation of the IPCMC, an independent oversight body to ensure police conduct meets acceptable international standards.
The forum began with Dato Ramachelvam, the Co-Chairperson of the Bar Council’s Task Force on the IPCMC, explaining why HAKAM and Bar Council were compelled to organise the forum to remind people of the need for the IPCMC.
In his welcoming address soon after, President of the Bar Council Steven Thiru said that names like Kugan and Dharmendran have become household names for the wrong reasons. He pointed out that it is unbecoming that custodial deaths, a blatant disregard to right to life, are taken so lightly, and that no one is charged or detained or questioned. “Even if someone is, the public is not convinced and strongly feel the need to label them as scapegoats. These custodial deaths are a national gallery of shame for Malaysia. For all that the nation boasts about, perhaps its time Malaysia deals with our skeletons in the closet”, he said.
He also pointed out that inquests are only conducted on 5% of deaths in police custody and that this is unacceptable as the law, the Criminal Procedure Code, allows the magistrate to initiate investigations when such an offence may have occurred. He also said, “It is also apparent that Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) is nothing more than a watered down version of the IPCMC. And it would appear that the EAIC was designed to fail.”
“The situation has gotten worse with the police making pronouncements on a commission of a crime. Their responsibility is to investigate crimes. Such pronouncements made on social media makes the investigations that follow those pronouncements totally redundant”, said Steven.
We were also honoured to have Tun Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah as the forum keynote speaker. Tun Dzaiddin, when delivering his keynote address, remarked without any reservation that the Police Force had very little regard for human rights. Tun Dzaiddin said, “The current attitude within PDRM towards the rule of law is one of indifference, with a patent disregard for basic human rights. Whilst the current Malaysian Police Training Camp requisites a year-long course before graduation to constable, there is a distinct lack of emphasis upon respect for the rule of law or the sanctity of human life.”
Tun Dzaiddin also said in his keynote address, “The tragedy is not only in the fact that they died (referring to Kugan and Dharmendran), but that they did so whilst in the care of the Polis Di Raja Malaysia (PDRM), the supposed protector of our society.“
The former Chief Justice also criticised the so-called “blue wall of silence, the self protective shield to defend their own”, a term used to describe the barricade of protection police officers offer each other whenever they are under investigation, in order to protect each other.
“It is near impossible to have impartiality or transparency when looking to discipline one of your own, and the more controversial the topic the more opaque any investigation is likely to become”, said Tun Dzaiddin.
Quoting examples from the UK and how their Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is politically neutral and unafraid to prosecute, Tun Dzaiddin also lamented on the inherent flaws of the EAIC and how it is incapable of bringing about reform. Yet, he says, “I am a realist and I have the foresight to see that political will for the IPCMC has yet to achieve its apex. It requires both government and civil organizations to work together and therefore changes must be made instead to the EAIC.” He called for the establishment of the IPCMC, or at the very least, a reform of the EAIC.
The former Chief Justice also proceeded to commend the judiciary, applauding Justice VT Singham for his decision in Kugan’s civil suit. “That judgment demonstrates a level of fairness and by setting precedence in higher courts that police brutality cannot be tolerated”, he opined.
“Custodial death should not become the rule of the day. It is a heinous crime perpetrated by the custodians of law. If custodians of the law themselves indulged in committing such crimes, then no part of the society is safe and secure,” – Former High Court Judge, VT Singham, 9 July 2013
The Forum panellists comprised Tan Sri Zaman Khan Rahim Khan, Former Director General of Prisons, Malaysia; former police commissioner / Federal CID Chief; EAIC commissioner Leong May Chan; Datuk Kuthubul Zaman Bukhari, a commissioner of the Royal Commission in 2005 and Co-Chairperson, Bar Council Task Force on IPCMC; Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria also commissioner of the Royal Commission in 2005 and Secretary General, Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (PROHAM); Sharmini Darshini, Executive Director, Amnesty International Malaysia; and Dato’ Sri Sanjeevan R, Chairman, MyWatch.
The forum was moderated by Firdaus Husni, a member of the Bar and a member of the Bar Council Task Force on IPCMC.
Among the issues raised by the panel are that the IPCMC is indeed necessary and must emulate independent misconduct commissions in other jurisdictions with the exception of Tan Sri Zaman Khan. Datuk Kuthubul Zaman said the IPCMC received severe objections from the police. The question he posed is, “Why should the police object?”
Datuk Dr Denison from the Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (PROHAM), shed some light on independent commissions in Hong Kong, Singapore, New South Wales, and London.
He questioned the effectiveness of an internal mechanism as transparency and accountability cannot exist in an environment where there are good cops and rogue cops simultaneously.
This campaign deals with state sanctioned torture and involved putting the question “If you are detained by authorities in your country, will you feel safe?” to respondents.
She revealed that 85% of Malaysians who responded said “No”.
She believes this is a clear indication of how bad public perception is, and is reason enough to call for the IPCMC.
Tan Sri Zaman Khan however felt that an internal integrity unit is most practical to monitor the police. This integrity unit, he says, must be transparent.
He also highlighted the establishment of the Integrity and Standards Compliance Department (Jabatan Integriti dan Pematuhan Standard – abbreviated to JIPS) as the unit in charge of police misconduct. He expressed the opinion that this shows the government and the IGP’s commitment to handling police misconduct.
Dato’ Sanjeevan commented that the IGP and police had rejected Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) participation in JIPS.
He asked, “Why should the police interfere with the involvement of MACC in JIPS. If JIPS were to monitor the standard of the PDRM (the malay acronym for Police Diraja Malaysia – the Royal Malaysian Police) as an enforcement agency, isn’t corruption a major problem that needs to be nipped in the bud?”
Madam commissioner Leong May Chan, representing the EAIC, said the commissioners are appointed by Yang Dipertuan Agong and answerable to Parliament. Legally she says, some provisions are similar with the IPCMC Bill proposed by the Royal Commission in 2005.
She also unfortunately said that public perception cannot be changed. The public’s view of the police is something that cannot be changed. What remains unclear is whether she meant that changing public perception is not part of EAIC’s job scope.
The EAIC also has 3 members of the Malaysian Bar as Commissioners. In terms of resources, Madam Commissioner Leong says Minister Datuk Paul Low (Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, being the Minister responsible for the EAIC) will secure them the resources they need.
Question & Answer session
Various issues were raised including how the poor is more often than not the victims of police abuse. Maha a lawyer from Ipoh raised the concern that most police abuses occur to the poor and because they know that they would not be able to afford trial costs, they rather plead guilty, stay in remand centers and be subject to abuses and tortures.
Balakrishnan, a young lawyer from the Perak Bar demanded a solution to the problem of police arresting former convicts or former drug abusers just to meet KPIs. According to him, the police knows where to find these ex-convicts and they treat them like a pool of convenient people to arrest when the need arises. These cases are termed the “belanja cases”. Not only that it is unfair but it is also disallowing drug users to come out of drug. He raised this concern to Madam Leong hoping that she could provide him a way forward. It had also stirred an uproar from the audience as to the sheer audacity the police have to result to such acts.
What was more disheartening is the fact that this is almost like a normalcy within the force and the EAIC remains clueless about such practices.
In response, Datuk Kuthubul Zaman commented that there needs to be more long term solutions to the issues faced. Various studies have shown that an internal oversight body will never work. He cited his experience as a commissioner when he visited New South Wales and observed how the son of the Police Chief was on public trial for misconduct. Due to the level of transparency involved, the system is effective in curbing misconduct.
Participants had also questioned EAIC on its powers to initiate inquiries on its own accord if the issue is one of public interest. Andrew Khoo pointed out that the commission has powers to do so under Section 28 of the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission Act 2009. The question he posed is, why hasn’t the EAIC started any of its own inquiries?
The conclusion of the forum was evident – it ultimately boils down to the effectiveness of the EAIC as an oversight body, whether it has real means to instill a sense of accountability among cops, to discipline rogue cops and to ensure the righteous ones remain righteous. The panel with the exception of Tan Sri Zaman Khan had concluded that the IPCMC as suggested by the Royal Commission is still a necessity and will always be so.
HAKAM President Dato’ Ambiga Sreenesavan reminded the forum in her closing address that the IPCMC and the setting up of the Royal Commission to look into police conduct is not something that did not have political will. “Let us not forget that it was mooted by the Prime Minister at that time”, she said.
“Coming from the highest office in the government, the IPCMC had all the political will it need to be realised but the police was against it. Now, how can a police force in the country be more powerful than the Executive?” she asked.
“And therein lies the problem. An enforcement agency (i.e. the Police) that is too powerful and worse, not answerable to anybody leads to horrific disregard of basic human rights. On the one hand, Malaysia claims to be a progressive democracy with much respect for human rights while pitching to be elected as a non-permanent member of the Security Council. On the other hand we have hundreds of cases of deaths caused by police misconduct including custodial deaths”, concluded Dato’ Ambiga.
HAKAM feels that the Human Rights Watch is correct to say that “Unfortunately the Malaysian government and the Inspector General of Police (IGP) have abdicated their responsibility by not making the necessary policy changes to ensure effective oversight and accountability in cases of alleged wrongful deaths, mistreatment in custody and excessive use of force. By failing to ensure that the police cooperate with oversight bodies such as the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suruhanjaya Hak Asasi Malaysia, SUHAKAM) and the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC), or to establish a specialized independent police investigatory body as recommended by the Royal Commission, the government has allowed the Royal Malaysian Police to remain effectively unaccountable for serious abuses.”
– Report dated 16 June 2015
The forum garnered significant media coverage, including as follows:-
- Ex-CJ’s remarks on cops ‘off the mark’, says IGP [4 Jun 2015]
- IGP: Police are not above the law [4 Jun 2015]
- Ex-CJ: Shifting police culture towards human rights a mammoth task [1 Jun 2015]
- EAIC not enough to check police, critics say after latest custodial death [31 May 2015]
- Integrity body grilled for failing to curb custodial deaths [30 May 2015]
- Ex-CJ: Death in custody caused by cops’ disregard for human rights [30 May 2015]
- Who says police need report to probe into crime, asks ex-top cop [30 May 2015]
- Siapa kata perlu laporan polis siasat jenayah, soal Zaman Khan [30 May 2015]
- Four years and 1,000 complaints later, EAIC says nobody prosecuted yet [30 May 2015]
- Bar Council and HAKAM renew calls for commission to probe police misconduct [29 May 2015]
To view more on this event as well as the pre-and-during-event blog interactions, please visit our post @ FORUM: Rogue Cops: Workable Solutions – Police Accountability in Malaysia
This Forum is part of the 2014/2016 Special Project: Police Accountability – IPCMC