Redundant Rela

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relaRela’s reported move (New Straits Times, 26 June 2007) to push for a law to legitimise itself and its operations has triggered alarm bells for human rights in Malaysia.

Rela, which has become internationally notorious for its indiscipline and human rights abuse against defenceless migrants and refugees, is now seeking to legitimise itself by proposing new laws to enable it to operate as a lawful government department operating independently of the Home Affairs Ministry and the Immigration authorities.

The only law at present that pertains to Rela is the Emergency (Stipulated Powers) Act 1964. As there is currently no real or imagined emergency in Malaysia, Rela’s role as an auxiliary security force is, in fact, redundant. There are adequate professionally trained security forces in the country such as the police, Special Branch, Federal Reserve Unit (FRU), immigration enforcement officers, customs officers, municipal council enforcement officers, the armed forces and reserve units to handle any possible security problem that may arise.

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.

We deplore the fact that no steps have been taken to reassure Malaysians and the migrant and refugee communities in the country that Rela will respect the human rights and dignity of all people without discrimination. Court cases and complaints against Rela involving human rights violations seem to have been hidden from public knowledge after being exposed. The arrest of a few Rela personnel found to have engaged in criminal activities does not mitigate the other incidences where Rela has acted heavy-handedly and unjustifiably in violation of human rights.

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It is ironical that Datuk Abdul Rahman Ibrahim, the parliamentary secretary for the Home Affairs Ministry, should complain that Rela has insufficient personnel. Yet, Rela boasts of greater numbers than all the police and armed forces in the country put together – although most of these Rela members can hardly claim to be trained security professionals. A 10-day course and a uniform does not transform anyone into a professional overnight. There appears to be a trend favouring the use of vigilantes in this country, which brings to mind the ludicrous suggestion by the Putera Umno chief to reward Mat Rempit with cash and motorcycles if they act as police informants and are successful in helping police detain snatch thieves.

If the government is reluctant to disband Rela, perhaps it could consider a more constructive role for the volunteer corp especially in times of national catastrophe and natural disaster. Its personnel should be trained for search and rescue operations and assist Fire Department and Rescue teams, especially in times of natural disaster. Moreover, if Rela personnel are allowed proper professional defence training, they could be deployed as Malaysia’s contribution to United Nations peacekeeping operations. They would have every opportunity to know and carry out defence functions professionally in conflict areas such as Africa, Lebanon, Gaza and Iraq.

Aliran strongly urges the government, especially the Home Affairs Ministry, to think twice before sanctioning Rela as a legitimate permanent auxiliary security force in peacetime. In the past, Rela seems to have only heightened the prevailing xenophobic perceptions and attitudes towards migrant workers and other foreigners in the country.

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We will continue to remind the government of Malaysia’s obligation as a member of the UN Human Rights Council and under the UN Charter to uphold and promote human rights at home and abroad. The government is again reminded of its obligations to eliminate discrimination and violence against women and children under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 1979 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child,1989, which Malaysia has ratified.

Aliran also reminds the government that Malaysia has been blacklisted by the international community for human trafficking and human rights violations, making a mockery of our membership of the UN Human Rights Council. The government should therefore stop deluding itself that Malaysia is held in high esteem by the international community and immediately rectify the situation.

Aliran Executive Committee

6 July 2007

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