Human Rights in Malaysia: Surface or Substance?

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As human rights reach a focal point in Malaysia, international concerns are growing. A report entitled “No Answers, No Apologies” was released recently by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

This report detailed allegations of human rights violations by Malaysia, mainly on ill treatment of persons in custody, wrongful killing, torture and unnecessary and/or excessive use of force during public assemblies causing injuries and death. However, the allegations were not properly dealt with, and violations of human rights in Malaysia have become even worse.

So what are the reasons behind the violations? Mainly, a lack of transparency, impartiality and accountability of the Police force, seen for example in the use of excessive force recently at a rally known as “Bersih”, demanding the Election Commission of Malaysia to provide for a Clean and Fair Election. Protesters on that day were gathering peacefully in the city area however, were met by the police, who started using chemical-laced water cannons and tear gasses on the citizens. Not content with stopping there, members of the force chased citizens, arresting and hitting them in the process. What started out as a peaceful assembly ended with citizens injured, arrested and dead. Not only is this a clear violation of the UN’s Basic Principles of the Use of Force, it contravenes the Firearms by Law enforcement officials, that stated “ in the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable shall restrict such force to minimum necessary”.

On the surface, many would believe Malaysia, as a commonwealth country, respects human rights. However, below the surface tells a different story. The mask is slowing coming off through the use of social media platforms, news and the courage of citizens sharing posts on websites such as Facebook, demonstrating the wrongful killing, torture and ill treatment of criminal suspects that continues everyday. Cases such as Mr Teoh Beng Hock, who died while in the custody of Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in 2009. The explanation that was given by the authority raises many suspicious points, and until today, the cause of Mr Teoh’s death is still unknown. Mogan Subramanian emerged from the force’s detention alive, a 42 year old mechanic, he talked about prisoners who, like himself were ill-treated in custody. Originally accused of having a drug problem and stealing a truck, Subramanian was beaten repeatedly in custody with a pipe, kicked and threatened with firearms to confess.

Such ill-treatment continues everyday. Human rights violations in Malaysia need a firmer hand and a greater level of transparency by co-operating with external oversight agencies as well as following the UN basic principles.

By Sieh Lih Chuan 


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