09 July 2007

RELA Bill will worsen the climate of arbitrary law enforcement

Amnesty International Malaysia expresses serious concerns over the recent news highlighted in the media on the 26 June 2007 that the Home Affairs Ministry plans to restructure the civilian volunteer body RELA into a separate department with greater authority and even powers to source out its own funding.

The ministry stated that RELA’s main task once the bill is passed will be to catch illegal immigrants and to help the immigration and police. The Ministry is planning to table the Bill on RELA in parliament this year which will make RELA as a full fledge law enforcement department.

Amnesty International fears that the proposed bill to empower RELA with further enforcement powers will legitimize and strengthen the powers of arrest; search and detention functions of a body which has been known to act arbitrary and in an overzealous manner. This will worsen the current climate of arbitrary law enforcement in Malaysia and will increase the abuse of power and human rights violations.

Current under the law RELA has very wide and discretionary powers. This includes powers to stop any person by the standard of reasonable belief that the person is a terrorist, undesirable person, illegal immigrant or an occupier in order to make inquiries and to arrest these persons without warrant. They have also been given powers to enter and search any premises without a warrant and to carry arms. Recent incidents have shown that RELA officers have arrested and detained persons on their own without an oversight mechanism of a competent authority.

AI Malaysia strongly objects the enforcement powers provided to RELA contained in the proposed bill. We believe that law enforcement work that involves powers to arrest, search and detain must be only be given to competent and specially trained full time authorities coupled with clear provision in terms of powers and accountability. This is due to the fact that these powers can affect fundamental liberties and the freedom of a human being. Therefore these powers should not be extended to a volunteer civilian body with poorly trained, part time members. They must be limited to the police and Immigration officials with clear guidelines and accountability mechanisms.

We are concerned about the powers given to RELA to secure its own funding which will make the department to function as a “private enforcement” body, hence become vulnerable to corrupt practices.

We are also concerned that the proposed Bill shows the tendency on the part of the government to employ an approach of arbitrary arrest and detention as the first and only solution to address any particular situation. It also highlights the continued use of “emergency laws” for enforcement which has contributed to systematic human rights violation in this country.

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