Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Global rights watchdog: Disband Rela

Global rights watchdog: Disband Rela
May 9, 07 3:07pm

An international human rights watchdog said the Malaysian government should disband Rela (People's Volunteer Corps) on grounds of repeated complaints of abuse and unlawful behaviour towards migrant workers.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement today that it has documented many instances of such abuse this year alone including:

• (April 5) Volunteers arrested some 20 Burmese refugees and asylum seekers at a market in Kuala Lumpur, of whom at least five had been officially recognised as refugees by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

• (late March) Eight members of a team removed belongings worth RM1,800 from one dwelling and were detained on robbery charges

• (March 8) An officer detained an Indian immigrant with identification certifying his legal status. It took four days for the worker's employer to obtain his release from a detention camp for illegal immigrants.

• (March 6 and 7) Volunteers who were to have handed out flyers related to court orders helped a developer evict 50 families and tear down houses in Kampung Berembang. They operated bulldozers and were also alleged to have used excessive force.

• (March 2) 10 volunteers raided a factory in Jenjarom, Selangor, injuring two Nepalese workers and detaining eight others.

• (January 28) Rela raided in Kampung Sungai Merab, Denkil, resulting in the arbitrary arrest of 14 persons recognised as refugees by UNHCR.

“Rela volunteers (who are) fully uniformed, armed and unaccompanied by police or immigration officers, often employ unnecessary force and illegal policing practices,” the HRW statement said.

It also listed Rela’s modus operandi in, for example, breaking into migrant lodgings in the middle of the night without warrants and brutalising the occupants and extorting money from them.

“(They also) confiscate cell phones, clothing, jewelry, and household goods, before handcuffing migrants and transporting them to detention camps for ‘illegal immigrants’,” it stated.

Distinction ignored

The organisation said Rela members have failed to distinguish or have deliberately ignored the distinction between undocumented immigrants, and refugees and asylum seekers.

“At other times, volunteers have refused to recognise a worker's legitimate immigration status ... volunteers have been known to deliberately destroy identification cards proving a worker's right to be in Malaysia.

“Rela's behavior has embarrassed the government into announcing some minor reforms but tinkering with raiding procedures or upgrading training will not get to the fundamental issue, which is that Rela should be disbanded.”

Almost half a million volunteers are authorised to help maintain public order, primarily through the arrest of undocumented migrant workers.

According to the home ministry, the role of Rela is “to help maintain security in the country and the well being of the people” as the eyes and ears of the government since 1972.

However, in 2005, the corps was given more power to stop ‘any person suspected as terrorist, undesirable person, illegal immigrant or an occupier’.

“The government has set up what's little more than a vigilante force to target foreigners. Given Rela's repeated abuses, it should be disbanded right away,” HRW added.

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