THE alleged murder of Kugan Ananthan clearly illustrates that policing in this country must change once and for all. There have been too many cases of police misconduct and abuse where internal investigations fail to bring perpetrators to justice.
A frequent response to inquiries about the investigation of a complaint of police abuse, particularly when there is little media coverage or public interest, is that police investigators were satisfied that “procedures were followed correctly.” If any police personnel is charged or convicted for a criminal offence, it is usually a junior officer.
What we need is a thorough change in the police code of conduct on arrest, interrogation and detention. Only through this can there be an effective deterrent against police misconduct and abuse.
At the moment there is a relatively low level of awareness of rights among many detainees, which is a key safeguard against police ill-treatment and torture. The laws, procedures and Inspector General’s Standing Orders must be reviewed to ensure that detainees in police custody are informed of and can exercise their rights. This includes the right to contact a legal representative promptly after arrest, to contact their family and access medical services if they require it.
They should also have the right to be promptly (within 24 hours) brought before a magistrate, be fully informed about the nature of the remand proceedings and be able to inform the magistrate about their treatment whilst in police custody. Information about these rights should be disseminated widely.
Continued efforts should be made and regular inspections conducted to ensure that police lockups and other detention facilities are of a standard required in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. When police custody facilities fall short of these standards, necessary steps should be taken immediately to improve them.
Unhindered access to facilities must be given to Suhakam and other independent human rights groups and the Bar Council. This can significantly contribute to the prevention of human rights violations such as torture and ill treatment, and can also help safeguard the police against false allegations of human rights violations. It also provides a framework for cooperation between the authorities, independent experts, civil society groups and others to work together towards ensuring that international standards are met.
Finally, to hold police accountable, there must be effective internal accountability and external oversight mechanisms. All allegations of human rights violations or misconduct by police officers must be received without impediment and immediately investigated. Prompt status reports on the progress of investigations must be provided. Disciplinary or criminal proceedings must be undertaken where allegations of human rights abuses are proven to be well-founded.
It is also about time that the government keeps its promise and sets up an external investigation mechanism dealing specifically with complaints involving the police. This body must be operationally independent of the government, political influence and the police.
It must be empowered to receive complaints and depending on the complaint’s nature and seriousness, to choose whether to supervise or manage investigations by the police, or to carry out investigations using its own independent investigators. It must be accountable to parliament and be required to report publicly on its activities.
If the government is truly serious about combating police misconduct and abuse, it must take steps to ensure that police operations respect the rights of those arrested and detained and that necessary safeguards exist to prevent abuses. If this is not done, it is guaranteed that we will continue to hear of more cases of police abuse such as those allegedly suffered by Kugan.
Josef Roy Benedict
Subang Jaya, Selangor