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Deep South victims need more than compensation

Systematic change is necessary if state agencies want to regain the trust of local residents

The proposal to create a single agency directly responsible for looking after victims of insurgency-related violence in the deep South makes a great deal of sense.

Put forward by five universities, the proposal stems from a study commissioned by the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre (SBPAC).

According to the study, residents in the restive region are "moderately satisfied" with the existing remedial measures and "very satisfied" with state officials' work. However, respondents suggested that remedial measures and victim rehabilitation should be put in the hands of a single agency.

Respondents said one strongpoint of the government was its effort to foster their sense of comfort and hope amid trying times. They pointed to the promotion of community-related activities, in a region where violence is taking a toll on relations among communities and between residents and state agencies.

However, officialdom's longstanding top-down approach remains a problem for these citizens. The study found there was a lack of systematic planning and standardised operations in provincial and district-level agencies, as well as in other spheres of the bureaucracy.

Besides the mistrust between residents and state agencies, other issues that continue to pose problems include officials' lack of relevant experience, gaps in information-sharing and links between agencies, a lack of information and database analysis necessary to develop remedial measures, and inadequate procedures for checking up on these measures.

Many in the South believe the state could improve the situation by handing more of its power to local bodies.

For instance, a database of victims should be set up in order to promote transparency. Efforts in this direction have been made in the past. In 2004 the Ninth Police Region began posting all of its reports on a website, but that disappeared without explanation two years later.

Part of the reason for its demise was that the reports it publicised attracted too many questions. Allegations of state complicity in torture, extra-judicial killings, abduction and other abuses were mounting. Local and foreign rights-organisations kept up the pressure over an issue that continues to haunt whatever peace effort the government puts together.

It's no wonder that the courts eventually acquit the vast majority of the people accused in these controversial cases. The longstanding pattern of flimsy charges followed by acquittals should have forced security officials to rethink their approach by now. It's not uncommon for a suspect to spend years fighting for justice and then being acquitted - only to face a fresh set of charges. Is it any wonder that Malay Muslims in the South are distrustful of the justice system?

Improving the compensation criteria, as the report suggests, will do little to curb the violence of the insurgency. However it could help decrease the number of court cases filed against the state for authorities' abuses and other misconduct.

But, to get to the root cause of the climate of distrust between residents and authorities, state agencies have to work together and develop a common understanding of the problem itself.


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