THE recent incident at Brickfields where a group of individuals who went to make police reports were dispersed with chemical-laced water and where subsequently 17 people were arrested raises many concerns.
What is important to remember is that a police station is a public place and any individual or group has the right to go and make reports. It is the police’s duty to allow Malaysians to make their reports and to investigate them.
Suhakam findings from three of its public inquiries into the Kesas Highway and Mahkota Cheras incidents, and the KLCC demonstration have established that excessive police force was used in dispersing the crowd or in apprehending individuals. Therefore, the action at Brickfields does not come as a surprise.
However, what is of urgent concern is that the police continue to justify their actions and continue to refuse to recognise the different position held by the public about their conduct.
Police action must be seen to be just and fair, impartial, and in adherence to human rights principles, natural justice and the legal framework.
Public officials must demonstrate that their statements, thoughts, attitudes and actions are consistent with the basic principles of human rights and at the same time promote national unity and integration in Malaysia. Public officials, especially the Inspector General of Police (IGP), must go out of the way to ensure minority communities that the action by officials is not directed towards these communities because of their ethnic or religious background.
In other countries
When police in countries such as the US, Britain and Australia were found to have acted in ways which were racist, these police institutions had to reform. Reform was done especially through the recruitment and promotion of police officers from minority communities. Clear guidelines on police conduct to win public confidence, especially among minority communities in those countries, were also introduced.
Similar questions have been raised about the Malaysian police with regards racism. The way individuals from a section of the Malaysian society who might call themselves “Hindraf” or “Makal sakthi” have been treated does not angur well for Malaysia.
Scene of the Hindraf rally in Kuala Lumpur, November 2007 (Pic by Shamsul Said)
Additionally, hard line police actions have not addressed the roots of the communities’ grievances, which comprise socioeconomic rights, religious freedom and the right to be treated as equal citizens.
In multiracial and multireligious Malaysia, the police must go out of the way to demonstrate that all their actions are in the best interest of all communities.
The Malaysian police has a long and exemplary role in community policing. Therefore, my humble call is for the police to strengthen this and foster closer ties especially with groups who seek their assistance. Civil society action and members can be a great asset to the police force; they can be mobilised for action alongside the police for the common good.
By all international standards, these groups of individuals have launched a peaceful campaign. While many of their data and socio-economic analysis might not be accurate, the time has now come not for confrontation but for the state to enter into a dialogue with these groups.
My humble plea to the prime minister, deputy prime minister and the IGP is to reach out to these groups and provide them an avenue to express their concerns and disagreement. At the same time, the state must seek genuine strategies in addressing the root issues.
Current political representation through the federal government is unable to address these grassroots issues. Therefore new lines of direct discussions are essential to bring a clear settlement to them. Failure to do so will further racialise, radicalise and politicise the issues.
Public officials also have to acknowledge the weakness in the current system of delivery, or admit their mistake when what is being highlighted is true. Taking appropriate action on police officers who have violated the rules must clearly be part of the agenda to restore public confidence.
Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria
2 March 2009
Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria is a commissioner with the national human rights commission (Suhakam) and a research fellow at the UKM Institute of Ethnic Studies. The views expressed here are purely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the institutions he is part of.