Solve Crime Without Violating Human Rights

Dr Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser


The attempt by the government and its media to pin the blame for the rising incidence of crime on the repeal of the Emergency Ordinance is a devious attempt to reintroduce detention without trial. This is a further indication of the Najib administration’s rather tenuous adherence to democratic reform.


There are at least three strong reasons for opposing any return to detention without trial:


1.       It is a gross violation of human rights.

For decades, our country has been relying on detention without trial laws to deal with all manner of “problems” including putting away opposition leaders and other innocent people like myself. The repeal of the ISA and the EO last year was the least any reforming government had to do. Any attempt to bring back so-called “preventive” laws to deal with suspected criminals is a retrograde step and will be seen as a downright betrayal by the Najib government after its GE13 pledge. Apart from violating the detainees’ right to due process, EO detainees have also been subjected to physical and emotional torture as SUARAM’s annual human rights reports show. The EO also violates Article 5 of the Federal Constitution which guarantees a person’s right to trial and right to be defended by a legal practitioner.


2.       The detention of the six PSM leaders has exposed the arbitrary use of EO

Like the ISA, the EO has been used by the police and home ministry as a convenient means to arrest and detain whoever they want. More often than not, the arrests made under the EO are also of a speculative nature instead of (so-called) “preventive”, resulting in many innocent people being arrested. Many victims of the EO have never had a criminal record. This has included the six upright PSM leaders in 2011.


By so doing, the police and the government have lost all credibility in claiming that the EO is necessary to deal with hardened criminals. The EO is too broad and leaves too much room for corruption as witnessed in the many cases of police officials profiting from the invocation of the EO. This fact alone – that the police and home ministry have abused the EO by detaining innocent political leaders – is sufficient to take the moral air out of the myth that “preventive” laws are necessary to apprehend criminals.


3.       Other countries have succeeded in solving crime without “preventive” laws

The Malaysian government should accept the reality that it has failed to solve the ever increasing incidence of crime and address the factors responsible for this failure, namely, corruption, lack of political will, allocation of human resources, among others. Again, if we can point to one example in the world where they have succeeded in solving this problem of crime without resort to detention without trial, the Malaysian government’s argument falls…


Remember how New York City used to have the dubious reputation of being the crime capital in the world, racked with murders, burglaries, drug deals, car thefts, and other crimes? New York’s drop in crime during the 1990s was correspondingly astonishing—indeed, there was even a day recently when there was no crime reported at all for all 24 hours! In a span of only a few years New York’s murder rate plummeted from a high of 2,300 murders in 1990 to fewer than 600 since then, and has continued on a downward spiral for more than 10 years. This represents a reduction in the murder rate of more than 70 per cent and overall crime by 75 per cent. Car thefts fell from 150,000 per year to less than 20,000 per year.


I do not intend to discuss criminologists and sociologists’ explanations for this here. All we need note is that New York, Boston and in fact many other cities in the world have succeeded in tackling their crime problems without any resort to so-called “preventive” laws such as the EO. They used a combination of diverse methods that worked such as neighborhood organizations and community courts.  


Among the methods used, New York City hired 10,000 new police officers that increased the total to a formidable force of 40,000; civilians were hired for police administration duties, freeing police officers for beat patrol and more judges were hired to reduce the time spent processing criminals. Community policing was introduced while technology was employed to track high-crime areas; the number of undercover and narcotics officers was increased; truant patrols removed school children from the streets during school hours and parents were held accountable. Unemployed and homeless men and women were put to work cleaning parks, streets, and drains or entered into job training programmes. Illegal joints were shut down and religious organisations and community organisations also played a major role.


Boston is also enjoying its lowest crime rates in three decades. The city uses strategic and data-driven management approach; it works in partnership with the community to fight crime, reduce fear, and improve neighborhood quality of life. It takes proactive measures that reflect public safety and the department’s philosophy of neighborhood policing. The department not only tracks and reports on serious crimes, but also sets district-specific goals. It promotes accountability and creates a learning organization by spreading best practices and lessons learned across the department. Thus, community policing is key. The police work with the clergy, with communities, large industries as well as non-profit organizations.


But for all this to work there has to be the political will and the stamping out of corruption from the highest level of the police force to the mata mata on the beat. Then we have to prioritise more police officers on beat patrol instead of spying on law abiding citizens, breaking up peaceful assemblies and all the work connected to detaining citizens without trial.