Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Memorandum to SUHAKAM -Violence, Brutality, Theft and Abuse of Power...

Memorandum to SUHAKAM
1 November 2006

Violence, Brutality, Theft and Abuse of Power
RELA Personnel in Government’s Ongoing Operations against Illegal immigrants


SUARAM continues to be highly concerned about the government’s continued utilization of untrained civil volunteers, particularly the RELA (People’s Volunteer Corp) in ongoing operations against undocumented migrants in Malaysia. In its effort to deal with immigration issue, the government has empowered the 400,000 strong RELA personnel to conduct mass-scale raids on suspected neighborhoods of “illegal immigrants,” force-enter premises and to indiscriminately arrest and detain suspects without warrant. The deployment of RELA in such operations has generated controversy and a stream of public complaints over abuse of power by RELA personnel involved in the raids. RELA personnel regularly use brutal methods, assault and humiliate migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers. They have also been accused of theft, bribery and corruptions.

Since SUARAM last filed a complaint to SUHAKAM on 24 May 2006, complaints of violence and corruptions against RELA members have become a norm rather than isolated incidents. There has been consistent pattern of theft, deliberate damage to properties, physical assault, humiliation and degrading treatment of suspected illegal immigrants during RELA raids.

On July 6, 2006 at about 3:15 a.m RELA raided a makeshift camp at Putrajaya and arrested 48 Chin asylum seekers, including one woman in her first month of pregnancy (Ms. Niang No) and a 14-year-old boy. RELA personnel confiscated 2 mobile phones belonging to Ms. Niang No and her husband.

On July 30, 2006 RELA personnel conducted another raid on Chin Burmese refugees and asylum seekers in a jungle camp in Putrajaya. In an attempt to intimidate them, a commander of RELA fired a pistol in the air. RELA personnel humiliated and assaulted Mr. Kim who is a leader of the camp in the presence of hundreds of other detainees. He was slapped in the face and kicked several times in the groins. RELA members were also accused of ransacking the makeshift huts of Chin asylum seekers and stealing 6 mobile phones and 400 Ringgits belonging to detainees. They also arrested two refugees after throwing away their cards which showed that they are UNHCR persons of concern.

On the night of 17 August 2006, RELA raided a worksite in Kota Purtri. They savagely beat three Indonesians with legal work permits with batons on the lower parts of their body, prompting the employer to lodge a complaint to the police. RELA personnel also stole 500 Ringgits belonging to Mr. Van Thang, a Chin asylum seeker from Burma.

On September 30, 2006, RELA personnel arrested two UNHCR-recognized Chin refugees at their construction worksite at Section 3, Kajang. They had just started working there four days earlier. Although the two showed their UNHCR refugee cards, RELA personnel threw them away and arrested them anyway. They are identified as Biak Lian Thang (UN registration no. 3540SC0964) and Zosua Htee Win (35403C09458)

. Both are now being detained at Block A of Semenyih detention camp.

On October 5, 2006 baton-wielding RELA members raided Chin Refugee Center and its surrounding neighborhood of Jalan Imbi. RELA personnel cut door locks and broke open gates of several apartments. Afraid of RELA’s arrest, one Nepalese migrant jumped off a building injuring his legs. During the raid, RELA members stole a Nokia mobile phone worth about 400 Ringgits from a 25 year-old UN-recognized Chin refugee. Two other mobile phones, a Motorola and Nokia, each worth about 200 Ringgits and belonging to two asylum seekers were also missing during the RELA raid.

The RELA also forced out an American tourist on valid pass who was staying in the neighborhood and manhandled her in the process. There are several complaints from business owners and legal residents in the neighborhood about misbehavior of RELA personnel and damage to private properties. (See Annex # 1 – Complaint Letter by Amy Alexander)

On October 13, 2006, RELA again raided a makeshift camp in Putrajaya and arrested 8 Chin asylum seekers from Burma including 2 women, one of whom was 5 months pregnant. A teenage boy by the name of Sang Uk Hnin, who is awaiting addition of his name to his father UNHRC status, was among the 8 arrested.

In a similar incident on 14 October 2006, at around 4:30 a.m. about 700 RELA personnel rounded up a neighborhood in Cheras Alam Jaya. According to residents of the area, RELA personnel were crashing into their homes after smashing up gates and breaking up doors. During the raid, a 20 year-old Bangladeshi migrant was brutally gang-beaten by 8 RELA personnel. He was kicked, trampled on and hit with batons on the head and back, resulting in him being unconscious with serious bodily injuries. According to the victim’s brother and friends, the RELA personnel only stopped the attack when they realized he was no longer moving, thinking he was dead. A Malay police officer later intervened, and thinking too that he was dead, immediately called an ambulance which took him to hospital. The victim body was covered with blood and sustained long cuts on the front and back of the head.

RELA personnel were also accused of stealing 380 Ringgits from an UN-recognized Chin refugee working at an aquarium and pet store. In spite of showing them his UNHCR refugee card, RELA members forced their way into the victim’s apartment after breaking open the front gate. After forcing everyone out, RELA personnel took money from the victim’s wallet which was placed inside a wardrobe. They also smashed open a money box containing cash that the victim had saved for offering. Moments later when the RELA members have gone, Mr. Thang discovered that his money was missing.

During the same raid, a RELA officer stole expansive clothing from a garment factory. A witness testified that the said RELA officer took off his uniform and wore the stolen shirt underneath his uniform and walked away. RELA personnel also broke open ceilings as part of a search for suspected illegal immigrants who they believed are hiding. They also tried to break a wardrobe belonging to Mr. Mang (UNHCR refugee) in an apparent attempt to look for cash and valuables.

Witnesses testified that RELA members also dragged away a handicapped girl who is a Chin refugee from Burma. She walks with crutches as one of her legs is amputated. The girl was later released after immigration officials checked her status. Those taken away by RELA included 9 refugee children between the age of 2 and 14. One Chin community leader reported that a Chin asylum seeker by the name of Za Mang who recently underwent surgical removal of his gallbladder and still needed follow-up visits to hospital was taken away in the raid.

SUARAM received numerous complaints of irresponsible behaviors and utter lack of respect for people and properties by RELA personnel. According to James Miller AIL Munisamy, a Christian minister for the local church Majhis Agung Assemblies of God of Malaysia, many of the RELA personnel appeared drunk as they stormed his church, which is attached to his residence. In his statement to the police, the minister testified that a group of RELA personnel broke the padlock of his gate and forced their way in, just as he was talking to another RELA officer whom he let him in earlier. He identified the particular RELA member who caused damage to his door as YAHYA, an Indian Malaysian. The minister said that RELA personnel were not deterred by his attempt to call the police as they conduct a search of his premise. When the minister filed a formal complaint with the 9th Mile Police Station, the chief of the station told him about the numerous complaints he received from residents of the area against RELA personnel. (See Annex # 2 – Copy of Police Report)

Points of Complaint:

The mobilization of untrained or semi-trained civil volunteers such as the RELA in immigration round-ups has allowed serious breach of human rights to permeate. As the above cases clearly demonstrate, the unrestrained powers of authority vested on the RELA has served to encourage misbehavior, abuse of power and a culture of impunity for RELA personnel who commit serious criminal conduct and abuse of basic human rights and dignity. Moreover, we consider the constant raids on the migrant workers and refugees as an act of discrimination against migrant. We also consider the conduct of RELA to be a national shame and a dangerous setback for the promotion and protection of human rights in Malaysia, especially in light of the fact that Malaysia is a member of the esteemed United Nations Human Rights Council.

Therefore, we would like to bring the following concerns to SUHAKAM’s attention:

1. The use of violence, excessive and unnecessary force against migrants

RELA personnel regularly use brutal methods and excessive and unnecessary force while arresting migrants. Such violence has caused serious bodily injuries to the victims.

a) On 14 October, 2006 during a raid in Cheras, Hanan, 20 year-old Bangladeshi migrant was brutally gang-beaten by 8 RELA personnel. He was beaten with 2 foot long batons, kicked, punched and trampled on with boots until he fell unconscious and bleeding profusely on the floor. The RELA members then left him to die. An ambulance later rushed him to the hospital where he was put on oxygen mask and treated for severe cuts on his head and bruises on his back.

b) On 17 August, 2006, RELA members savagely beat three Indonesians who have valid work permits. They were beaten with batons on their thigh, causing severe swelling and bruise marks

c) On 30 July, 2006, Mr. Kim who is a UNHCR-recognized refugee was humiliated, slapped in the face and kicked several times in the groins in the presence of hundreds of other detainees

The excessive use of force by the RELA when conducting raids is totally uncalled for and inhumane. Such violent practice constitutes a flagrant violation of Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

2. Destruction of Properties, Forced Intrusion into Private Homes without Warrant

RELA personnel routinely break enter houses and damage locks, doors, ceilings and other properties. There have been numerous complaints by local residents and business owners of the deliberate and unnecessary damage to properties by RELA personnel conducting raids. Responding to citizen complaints during the raid in Cheras, the Home Minister was recently quoted as saying by the Star daily newspaper “They [members of the RELA] have the power to do it [break enter premises without warrant]. While the RELA is empowered to break into premises without warrant under the Emergency (Stipulated Powers) Act 1964 (Ikatan Relawan Rakyat) Amendment of February 2005, we question the need of giving this widespread and unchecked powers to the RELA, especially since we are a peaceful country and not under any emergency situation.. We propose that the law should be abolished and a warrant should be granted by a court before RELA could break into any premises with force.

3. Wrongful Detention and Mistreatment of Legal or Documented Migrants

The random and indiscriminate nature of RELA raids inevitably results in the wrongful arrest and detention of many legal migrants as well as the disruption of normal way of life for citizens, house owners and business owners in the area where mid-night raids are conducted. (See Annex # 3 – Chinese Language Newspaper Report) Many recognized refugees have been deliberately or otherwise netted in the raids. Two Burmese Chin refugees Mr. Biak Lian Thang (UN registration no. 3540SC0964) and Mr. Zosua Htee Win (UN registration no. 35403C09458) were arrested by RELA personnel on 30 September 2006, despite the fact that they have proof of their refugee status. The arresting RELA personnel deliberately threw away their cards and arrested them. As of now, they are still being detained at Semenyih detention camp. On October 5, 2006, during a raid in Jalan imbi, an American tourist who was visiting friends in Malaysia was also dragged out of her place in the middle of the night and detained for nearly two hours with hundreds of other migrants. She said she was manhandled by a female RELA officer in the process.

4. Theft and unlawful confiscation of properties

Theft and unlawful confiscation of properties is rampant during RELA operations. There have been numerous allegations of stealing of money, mobile phones and other valuables by RELA personnel conducting door-to-door search for illegal immigrants where all occupants of the house, regardless of their legal status, are forced out and RELA members took whatever valuables they saw in the house. In many instances, witnesses have testified that RELA members entering their houses first scanned the room for valuable properties or money, in stead of actually looking for or paying attention to how many people are in the house. In almost every instance of RELA raid since July 2006, there have consistently been cases of stealing of money, expensive garments or mobile phones belonging to victims of the raids as the following demonstrate;

a) On July 6, 2006, during a raid in a makeshift camp of Putrajaya, RELA members stole 2 mobile phones belonging to Ms. Niang No and her husband, Chin refugees from Burma.

b) In a similar case on July 30, 2006, RELA personnel ransacked the makeshift huts in Putrajaya and got away with 6 mobile phones and 400 Ringgits in cash belonging to Chin asylum seekers and refugees

c) On 17 August 2006, during raid in Kota Putri, RELA personnel stole 500 Ringgits belonging to Mr. Van Thang, a Chin refugee.

d) On 5 October 2006, RELA personnel confiscated 3 mobile phones from Chin asylum seekers during an early morning raid on the Chin Refugee Center and its surrounding area of Jalan Imbi.

e) On 14 October 2006, members of the RELA who raided a neighborhood in Cheras Alam Jaya were accused of stealing 390 Ringgits from a Chin refugee. The stolen money was taken from a wallet that has been placed inside a wardrobe and from a saving box. According to the Chin refugee, the RELA members ordered out all occupants of the room and then ransacked the place. They broke open the money box and took everything in it. During the same night, a Chin refugee boy witnessed one RELA personnel stealing an expensive garment from a garment factory where his father works. The factory is located one floor down from where the boy and his family live.

5. Arrest and Detention of Pregnant Women, Children and Persons with Sickness and Physical Disabilities

The round-ups conducted by RELA members are often too indiscriminate that many pregnant women, children sick persons and those with physical disabilities are arrested and detained. During a raid in Cheras Alam Jaya, RELA personnel arrested three pregnant women, all of whom are asylum seekers from Myanmar. Ms. Sai Cin Sung was 5 months pregnant at the time of her arrest. She was arrested despite the fact that she holds a letter from UNHCR indicating that she is registered with the office. She is awaiting a Refugee Status Interview (RSD), a final stage in a long process of determination of refugee status. Two other women were reported to be at least two to three months pregnant at the time of their arrest.

Children also fall victims to RELA arrest. As many as 10 asylum seeker children were arrested during the October 14 raid in Cheras. One 2 year-old child and two 3 year-olds were also arrested along with their mothers. The following asylum seeker children are still in detention at Lenggeng Camp.

1) Iang Tha Cer (Age 2)
2) Biak Rem Mawi (Age 3)
3) Van Lal Ri Mawi (Age 3)
4) Van Biak Hnin (Age 6)
5) Joseph (Age 7)
6) Ngun Kawi Tial (Age 10)
7) Tum Ling Sang (Age 11)
8) Esther Siang Hnen Sung (Age 13)
9) David Van Bawi Thang (Age 14)
10) A. Lian Za (Age 14)

In arresting migrants RELA members usually made no distinction of people with sickness and physical disabilities. Such insensitivity has led to the arrest and detention of extremely vulnerable individuals. Biak Za Hnem, a 14 year-old amputated girl was among hundreds of individuals who were dragged out of their quarters in Cheras Alam Jaya. She was a registered asylum seeker awaiting a final decision from UNHCR for refugee status. Sick persons arrested by RELA and detained in camps find themselves in deteriorating health conditions due to lack of proper access to medical attention and unsanitary environments.

The indiscriminate arrest and detention of women and children are in clear contravention of provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of all kinds of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to which Malaysia is a signatory. As a state party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Malaysian government has the obligation to ensure protection for children coming to seek sanctuary in Malaysia. The arrest and detention of asylum seeker children is in flagrant breach of Article 22 of the CRC which specifically states:

“States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure that a child who is seeking refugee status or who is considered a refugee in accordance with applicable international or domestic law and procedures shall, whether unaccompanied or accompanied by his or her parents or by any other person, receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance in the enjoyment of applicable rights set forth in the present Convention and in other international human rights or humanitarian instruments to which the said States are Parties”.

6. Conditions of Detention:

Conditions of detention centers in Malaysia remain a matter of serious concern. Former detainees have reported overcrowding, sanitary and hygienic problems, abuse by guards and inadequate provisions of food and access to health care – problems that the Home Minister admitted still exist. Asylum seekers and refugees detained in camps are also subjected to such conditions. According to one refugee community group, as many as 600 asylum seekers, both registered and unregistered with UNHCR, are being held in detention camps around the country. We estimate that hundreds more unknown asylum seekers are being detained. Of particular concern is the wellbeing of pregnant women, persons with illness and children and infants. Currently, there are at least 6 known children detainees under the age of 3 at Lenggeng and Juru detention camps.

Given the Home Minister’s own admission and the tragic death last month of two Filipino minors resulting from their detention in Malaysian detention camp, we are gravely concerned over the wellbeing of asylum seeker children currently in Lenggeng and other detention camps in Malaysia.


Cases we documented have shown that there is a clear and consistent pattern of gross misuse and abuse of power by RELA personnel during round-ups of undocumented migrants. We believe that serious human rights violations have resulted from the government continued utilization and empowerment of RELA in its effort to tackle immigration issues in Malaysia. We are of the opinion that serious action is warranted in the interest of justice and human rights.

We, therefore, urge SUHAKAM to:

1) call on the government to immediately discontinue the use of RELA and to stop mass raids on migrant workers, asylum seekers and refugees

2) to conduct an independent and open inquiry into the abuse of power and unlawful violence by RELA personnel to ensure that any members who committed criminal offences and violations of human rights are held accountable and brought to justice

3) to establish an effective mechanism of monitoring for all detention centers by conducting investigative visits to ensure the wellbeing of detainees

4) to call on the government to ratify the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrants Workers and their Families

5) to immediately secure the release of all asylum seekers and refugees, particularly vulnerable groups such as children, pregnant women, persons with sickness and in need of treatment who arrested in RELA raids

6) to intervene for the immediate release of the asylum seekers and migrants who are mothers with their babies in detention centers and prisons as detention camps and prisons are surely not the appropriate place to raise babies. (See Annex # 4 – Name of Chin refugee babies detained in Lenggeng and Juru detention camp)

7) to propose to the government to abolish the Emergency (Stipulated Powers) Act 1964 (Ikatan Relawan Rakyat) Amendment of February 2005 and amend the law to prohibit RELA from breaking into private premises without warrant from the court.

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