A culture of impunity and lack of accountability for Malaysian police has led to widespread human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings and deaths in custody, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.
In a 102-page report, “‘No Answers, No Apology:’ Police Abuses and Accountability in Malaysia,” Human Rights Watch found that less than one-quarter of the 4,334 police misconduct cases reported from 2005-2012 were prosecuted in court, while many police implicated in abuse cases were never investigated.
“The lack of police accountability facilitates abusive and at times deadly police practices,” the report said.
“Police in Malaysia have committed wrongful killings, torture and other ill treatment of persons in custody, and used unnecessary or excessive force during public assemblies causing injuries and death,” said the report, released during a Kuala Lumpur press conference on Wednesday.
Speakers at the press conference included family members of people allegedly killed by Malaysian police.
"What the report reveals is a police force where abusive behavior is tolerated, deaths in custody are frequently covered up, and police refuse to cooperate with the limited external oversight mechanisms that exist, such as the national human rights commission," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.
Additionally, the report stated that 394 people were shot and killed by police from 2000 to 2012, with 298 killings occurring from 2007 to 2012 and that another 231 people died in police custody from 2000 to 2013.
The report said that with allegations of police abuse, investigations are conducted primarily by the police themselves, and often by officers from the same precinct from where the complaint originated.
Human Rights Watch said that its investigation revealed a pattern of police justifying the use of deadly force by claiming to have seen victims carrying a machete or that the alleged suspects posed a risk during a car chase. But interviews with eyewitnesses frequently contradict police statements.
In one case, police shot and killed three young men, claiming that the trio charged towards them with machetes. However, a government post mortem report released eight months after the incident suggested the men were kneeling and shot at close range, as the victims had bullet wounds to the side of their heads and gunpowder residue on their clothes, the report said.
“Malaysian police evidently believe that their at times outrageous public statements on shooting deaths won’t be subject to competing evidence and accounts in the media. And so far, sadly, victims have little recourse because police investigate themselves, ignore external oversight requests and manipulate the system,” Robertson said.
Deaths in police custody in Malaysia also remain a major concern, Human Rights Watch said. Demands for police accountability are hampered by weaknesses in government-led post mortem examinations that typically do not consider whether the death may have resulted from police mistreatment. Many victims’ families seek a second post mortem to get an independent appraisal of the cause of death.
Human Rights Watch recommended that Malaysia form an independent commission with powers to investigate allegations of police abuse and misconduct. The rights body also called for proper police training on the use of firearms and deadly force.
“Malaysia’s politicians and police are failing the test when it comes to providing justice to victims of abuses. The impact goes beyond those directly harmed, creating dangerous mistrust between the police and the communities they patrol,” Robertson said.