Saturday, July 07, 2007

AI, Aliran: NO to ‘Rela department’

AI, Aliran: NO to ‘Rela department’
Jul 7, 07 6:35pm

Two human rights watchdogs have come out strongly against attempts by the government to make the People Volunteer Corps (Rela) into a full fledged enforcement department soon.

Amnestry International Malaysia (AI) executive director Josef Roy Benedict said such a move would further legitimise and strengthen the powers of Rela members to arbitrarily arrest, search and detain individuals.

“This will worsen the current climate of arbitrary law enforcement in Malaysia and will increase the abuse of power and human rights violations,” he said in a statement today.

At present, Benedict said Rela already has wide and discretionary powers where they can stop any person, enter any premises and make arrests without any warrants.

Such powers also do not come with an oversight mechanism and thus was subject to abuse, he said.

“Therefore, these powers should not be extended to a volunteer civilian body with poorly trained, part time members,” he added.

Similarly, Penang-based civil rights group Aliran said sanctioning the activities of Rela was a setback for Malaysia as a member of the UN Human Rights Council as the body had gained international infamy.

Don’t condone abuses

In a statement yesterday, Aliran said the government should instead consider limiting Rela to a disaster relief work.

“Aliran contends that legitimising Rela to become a permanent feature of our security apparatus is superfluous and tantamount to condoning the continuing violations of human rights in the country, regardless of the status of the victims,” they said.

On June 26, Home Affairs Ministry parliamentary secretary Abdul Rahman Ibrahim announced that Rela was pushing for a separate law to govern its operations with greater authority.

The body currently operates as a division under the Home Affairs Ministry and is governed by the Essential (Ikatan Relawan Rakyat) Regulations 1972, an emergency period legislation.

It is primarily tasked with weeding out undocumented migrants and have been frequently blamed for human rights abuses during their operations.

Once recognised as a full fledged government department, Rahman said Rela would no longer need to depend on the ministry for allocations.

Rahman had told Parliament that Rela had 350,000 active members and 664 officers and administration heads. It is in the midst of recruiting another 3,000 members.

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