Authorities in Malaysia have been facing an unprecedented level of scrutiny of late
The government’s handling of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has been much criticised, and bubbling under it has been the issue of human rights abuses.
On April 2, Human Rights Watch released a report entitled No Answers, No Apology that listed a catalogue of abuses by the Royal Malaysia Police, including unjustified shootings, mistreatment and deaths in custody, along with excessive use of force in dispersing public assemblies.
In particular, the rights group pointed to an almost complete lack of accountability in the country’s police force.
“There is still no effective independent oversight mechanism to turn to when police investigations falter,” the report stated. “The result is heightened public mistrust of a police force that has engaged in numerous abuses and blocked demands for accountability.”
Following the release of the report, a meeting was arranged between Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, and Malaysia’s top cop Khalid Abu Bakar.
Hopes were high for a positive outcome, as the police chief had said the force was listening to criticism as part of ongoing reform efforts. When it came to the crunch, however, Abu Bakar backed out of the meeting and Robertson met with a group of six senior police officials instead.
Things did not go well.
“When I met with senior officers… they refused to discuss the recommendations and instead continued with their barrage of insults,” Robertson said. “Such a reaction is symptomatic of a police force not used to being held accountable for its abuses and failings.”
Lack of accountability appears to go right to the top, if the experience of local rights group Pusat Komunikasi Masyarakat (Komas) is anything to go by. Human rights complaints submitted to the government by the organisation were ignored, forcing the group to take them to the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“We had to go to Geneva to complain because the doors for consultation here were closed,” said Jerald Joseph, director of Komas, at a recent discussion.