Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Police Shooting - SUARAM: Weak Procedures and Lack of Accountability in Police Shootings: Government Must Act Immediately to End Impunity

Press Statement: 24 November 2009

Weak Procedures and Lack of Accountability in Police Shootings:
Government Must Act Immediately to End Impunity

SUARAM strongly condemns the Royal Malaysian Police on the shooting of the five men in Klang on 8 November 2009 that resulted in their deaths. There are high numbers of death by police shooting and the police should stop maintaining the same reason of self-defence for shooting suspects to death and take measures to avoid such events from recurring.

SUARAM questions how it was possible that all the five suspects were shot dead simultaneously while they were in a moving vehicle as reported in the media. We also question the inconsistencies of the police accounts of the events surrounding the incident. Initial news reports by New Straits Times[1] and Bernama[2] described that police officers stopped the suspects’ vehicle and the suspects tried to run the vehicle into the police officers. The suspects opened fire at the police officers and the police returned fire, causing all five suspects to die on the spot. However, when denying allegations that the police had a “shoot-to-kill” approach, The Star reported that the Federal CID Director Comm Datuk Seri Bakri Zinin stated, “There was a high-speed car chase where the robbers tried to force the pursuing police vehicle off the road while firing shots indiscriminately at them. Police had no choice but to return fire.”[3]

Due to the poor track record of the police and inconsistencies in accounts of incidences such as the one that occurred on 8 November, there is a perception that there is an attempt by the police to cover up actual events. While we recognise the police officer’s right to self-defence, SUARAM is of the view that even if the suspect is first to open fire as alleged to have occurred in the incident that occurred on 8 November, the police must use other procedures to apprehend the suspects that are proportionate to the actions of the suspects and ultimately, lethal use of firearms must be the last resort and not the first.

Death by police shooting is not an uncommon practice in the police force. According to our documentation and monitoring, in 2008, there were 44 cases of death by police shootings with possibly more cases unreported. The perception that the police “shoot-to-kill” has developed because in many of the police shooting cases, circumstances indicated that the police did not try to apprehend suspects but rather, resort to the use of firearms at first instance of attack by suspects. In virtually every case, the police claimed that the suspects were armed and dangerous, and that returning fire was necessary but a closer examination would reveal that in a large number of the shooting cases, the suspects were only armed with weapons such as knives or parangs. These cases are clearly in contravention of the principles of restraint and proportionality in the international standards on the use of firearms by law enforcement officers.

International law clearly stipulates the basic criteria for the use of arms. In the United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials it is stated,Law enforcement officials may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty”.

Whereas Article 9 of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials states, “In any event, intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life…” and Article 10 states “…law enforcement officials shall identify themselves as such and give a clear warning of their intent to use firearms, with sufficient time for the warning to be observed, unless to do so would unduly place the law enforcement officials at risk or would create a risk of death or serious harm to other persons, or would be clearly inappropriate or pointless in the circumstances of the incident”. (All emphases added)

In addition, Section 15(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code (Act 593) states that in the event of an arrest, it is unlawful for police officers to cause the death of a person during an arrest before they have been accused of an offence severe enough to be sentenced to death or life imprisonment.

While much attention has been given to the recent deaths of ethnic Indian Malaysians in police shootings, SUARAM’s documentation shows that these cases are not merely confined to a single ethnic group. In 2008, 25 of the 44 deaths by police shootings documented by SUARAM that year were foreigners. It is therefore an issue of the failure of the government to discipline a police force which is today operating with critically weak procedures, lack of accountability and impunity.


The low public confidence in the police force today is largely due to its lack of accountability. This has been made worse by the recent police shooting cases and the attempts by the police in defending itself without proper and transparent investigation procedures.


In light of the recent police shooting cases, there is an urgent need to end impunity by immediately:-


1.      declaring and reviewing of the current procedures of the use of firearms on criminal suspects to ensure that police officers comply with international standards; and

2.      establishing accountability procedures after police shootings occur to ensure that police officers are accountable for their actions.

SUARAM also strongly calls upon the Government to immediately act on the recommendation by the Royal Commission on Police for an inquest to be conducted for every death within a month of the incident. This should include all deaths by police shootings. The recommendation states that the Magistrates and Government Medical Officers must be informed about each death and that the bodies must not be moved prior to that. Upon being informed, a Magistrate and a Government Medical Officer must immediately inspect the body at the site of the incident.


In the longer term, the Government must establish a Coroner’s Court as recommended by the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Criminal Procedure Code and the Penal Code – to carry out investigation on all deaths by police shootings as well as those in police custody.


Released by,


Lucas Yap Heng Lung

SUARAM Coordinator




[1] The New Straits Times (2009) ‘PCO Boy gang killed in shoot-out’, 9 November, at http://www.nst.com.my/Current_News/NST/articles/21deads/Article/index_html, accessed 23 November 2009 .
[2] Bernama (2009) ‘Five Criminals Shot Dead By Police’, 8 November, at http://www.bernama.com/bernama/v5/newsgeneral.php?id=453530, accessed 23 November 2009 .

[3] The Star (2009) ‘We don’t have shoot-to-kill approach, say police’, 11 November, at http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2009/11/11/nation/5086466&sec=nation, accessed 23 November 2009 .

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