Rela’s behaviour does not inspire confidence

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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."

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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.

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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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