Death in Custody: Address Human Rights Obligation Now

Monday, 20 July 2009

Amnesty International Malaysia views with great concern the recent deaths in custody of Teoh Beng Hock and P. Gunasekaran and the issues surrounding their deaths. These are not isolated incidents as recently there have been many reported cases of death while in the custody of the police, immigration department and prisons authorities. It raises a serious concern in terms of gap in human rights protection observed by the law enforcement authorities and accountability mechanism to address death in custody. Therefore, there is an urgent and critical need to address human rights obligation in terms of law enforcement work in Malaysia.

Law enforcement agencies and initiatives must exercise a high degree of human rights responsibility, and prioritise and internalise procedures in ensuring a person’s personal security and rights at all times. They are duty bound to ensure that a suspect or witness is provided with protection of their personal security and rights including their right to legal access and medical attention during the entire period of custody and investigation. This fundamental right has somehow remained discretionary, ad hoc and secondary in the nature of law enforcement work in Malaysia. That failure to prioritise and dutifully ensure human rights protection in law enforcement is the major contributing factor of deaths in custody in Malaysia.

Amnesty International Malaysia is concerned that the reported cases of death in custody will further negatively affect the public’s confidence in public agencies legislated to protect its rights and interests. The United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials clearly states that law enforcement agencies are accountable to the people they serve. People approach these agencies with issues of concern and wanting to live in a safe and equitable environment. Obviously these contacts will only be made when the public has trust in the agencies and is confident in their work. The current incidents have undermined public confidence in these agencies and it is critical for the government to strictly uphold human rights and professionalism in law enforcement initiatives in order to restore the public confidence.

Cases of death in custody are illustrative of wider patterns of breakdowns in procedural and supervisory safeguards ensuring adequate health care and the prevention of ill-treatment or torture. In 2006, the Parliamentary Select Committee on The Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code recommended the establishment of the Coroners Act in Malaysia to enable better procedures for investigation and inquest into death in custody, and for a Coroner’s Court to be established. It has become critical for the government to implement the Coroners Act to provide an accountability mechanism to ensure human rights compliance by law enforcement agencies.

Amnesty International Malaysia also calls for a Royal Commission to investigate all other cases of death in custody including the recent death of Teoh Beng Hock and to address gaps in the current law enforcement system in view of providing critical reform and change in our system. Amnesty International Malaysia further calls on the Malaysian government to enforce strict human rights compliance in all public service and law enforcement initiatives in a transparent and credible manner.

Nora Murat

Executive Director

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