Malaysia: Government should halt the expansion of security forces accused of abuses

Press Release
August 19, 2010

Malaysia: Government should halt the expansion of security forces accused of abuses

Amnesty International Says Malaysia Should Halt the Expansion of Security Forces Accused of Abuses

August 19, 2010

The Malaysian government should scrap plans to expand a state sponsored security force of civilian volunteers with a long record of human rights abuses against refugees and migrants, Amnesty International said today.

"RELA agents are responsible for the most rampant human rights abuses against migrants and refugees in Malaysia," said Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific director at Amnesty International. "Instead of curbing their abuses, the government plans to let loose a million more ill-trained civilians with police powers."

Ikatan Relawan Rakyat, commonly known as RELA, aims to expand its membership from 1.6 million to 2.6 million by the end of the year, according to an interview given to the Associated Press by the organization's Director-General Zaidon Asmuni. However, Asmuni also said RELA would be unable to thoroughly train more than 8,000 new officers per year.

Amnesty International documented in two reports in 2010 how RELA volunteers regularly engage in physical abuse and extortion, and indiscriminately detained those with the legal right to be in the country.

RELA is a civilian volunteer corps, but the government authorizes it to exercise police functions, including raiding, interrogating and detaining suspected illegal immigrants. Some RELA members are authorized to carry firearms.

RELA's Director-General stated that new recruits will again be involved in the guarding immigration detention centers, which has not been carried out on a large scale since mid 2009. "Last year the Malaysian government promised Amnesty International that RELA would be stripped of its highly criticized role in immigration enforcement, so it is very disappointing to see the force being handed back powers over immigration detention centers," said Zarifi.

Amnesty International has found that RELA lacks a clear structure of command responsibility, allowing RELA members to commit abuses without being held accountable.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.8 million supporters, activists and volunteers who campaign for universal human rights from more than 150 countries. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.