Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Another reason to abolish RELA -----

Aliran media statement

Rela's behaviour does not inspires confidence
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Tuesday, 29 January 2008
A group of Burmese Zomi refugees was raided by Rela and Sepang Municipal Council enforcers on 21 January 2008 (NST, 24 Jan.2008). According to a Zomi spokesperson, about 34 enforcement personnel allegedly "rushed into" the Zomi refugee camp in Putrajaya and torched it, severely diminishing the supplies of basic necessities on which the Zomi refugees depended for survival.

The Zomi spokesperson said, "Clothes, food and every single thing became ash in a few minutes." Having lost a large portion of their possessions, including six of their 20 shelters (NST, 24 Jan 2008), the Zomi refugees were left destitute. According to the spokesperson, none of the refugees was arrested, but this was the third time the Zomi refugees had been raided by Rela. The torching of the Zomi village remains a mystery as neither Rela nor the Sepang Munucipal authorities have claimed responsibility for it.

Another Rela raid took place on 23 January on another Zomi refugee camp in Putrajaya. According to the spokesperson, none of the 150 Zomi could speak Bahasa Malaysia, so they could not make any understandable appeal to the Rela personnel. Twenty six members of this community were detained, including a mother with a four-month old baby. Rela personnel were alleged to have confiscated "whatever they wished".

Aliran views raids of refugee camps to harass refugees as unnecessary even if no obvious acts of violence are reported to have been committed, as in this case. The act of deliberately causing poverty and destitution is itself a human rights violation. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, "Poverty is the worst form of violence."

These kinds of actions do little to inspire any confidence in Rela as a legitimate or proper security force. It is ironic that the Home Affairs Ministry and the Immigration authorities in this country would want to upgrade and establish Rela as an acceptable security force to deal with undocumented migrants and refugees.

Although Rela is entrusted with the role of immigration enforcement, it has apparently failed to attain the standards of a proper security force similar to those required of the Royal Malaysian Police or any of the armed forces in this country.

Yet, Rela is treated as an elite force despite their track record of thuggish behaviour resulting in serious human rights violations. Over the past few years, many instances of Rela's hooliganism, brutality and criminal behaviour have been reported in the mainstream, international and alternative media. Not only migrants and refugees have suffered from the vigilante actions and hooliganism of Rela personnel, Malaysians too have witnessed their gangsterism.

Such misconduct and abuse of power raises serious questions over the wisdom of recent government proposals to make Rela another government department - putting it in charge of security in immigration detention camps (IDCs) – and legitimising it through legislation. Even before this is formalised, putting Rela in charge of IDC security has already been done - despite their lack of experience and proper training in such work, as clearly seen in the raids carried out.

The anticipated Rela Bill to be tabled in Parliament in the near future is shrouded in secrecy. According to a reliable source, the provisions of the Bill are classified secret under the Official Secrets Act.

We ask the government why any law to be legislated for the public good should be kept secret?
Neither civil society nor members of the public have been consulted on the Rela Bill. There has been no careful thinking or weighing of the pros and cons of legalising Rela. No referendum on the feasibility of Rela as a security force has been held prior to the creation of this Bill. Is the Bill also going to be passed without adequate notice and open debate?

Aliran urges the government to publish the Rela Bill for public scrutiny. This would be a step towards democracy, transparency and good governance. In the current run-up to the general elections, these principles seem to have been forgotten. Instead, Rela is being imposed on the public through the back door.

Further, in disagreement with the Director of Immigration Enforcement, Ishak Haji Mohamad, Aliran stresses unequivocally that undocumented migrants and refugees are not a threat to national security. They should not be treated as criminals.

Malaysia's police force including the Special Branch already have a mandate to fight crime, maintain law and order and monitor internal security in the country. Aliran contends that Rela is a redundant body, especially in the absence of any real national emergency. We support the call of the Bar Council of Malaysia, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) and other civil society groups for the abolition of Rela.

Aliran Executive Committee.
29 January 2008

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