Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Kugan’s Autopsy Findings & Inquiry: Unsettling Questions remain

It is laudable that the Ministry of Health had taken the preemptive move to help diffuse the public anger regarding the custodial death of Kugan Ananthan, especially in the light of discrepancies between two separate post-mortems.

Whether an inquiry initiated on its own behalf is the correct avenue to address the public unease about this custodial death, is open to differing interpretation, acceptance or otherwise.

Any inquiry if it should be made at all should be carefully-constituted, thoughtfully empanelled and well-empowered by law. Its terms of reference must be made absolutely clear. It must uphold the final truth.

It must be based on facts and rational analyses of findings which are consistent, and which should be striving towards the ultimate truth of what actually is the cause of death or its contributing factors.

It should not be simply to water down discrepancies which would need fuller explanation and perhaps further elaboration from the actual forensic pathologists who had performed their respective tasks. These pathologists should be allowed to defend their findings and interpretations.

Furthermore, more expert and renowned forensic pahologists should have been invited to give their interpretations as to the facts of the findings and their weightage of causes of death, especially since there had been unmistakable evidence of torture, i.e. undeniable beating marks and unexplained bruises. These experts should be fiercely independent and thus unimpeachable.

Most importantly, this inquiry held behind closed doors, should not be seen to be papering over any misdeeds of any authority which it may be perceived as trying to defend.

Also, since this is not a public hearing and we know that the second pathologist declined to take part in the inquiry, this may make the report less than solid or above reproach. Seniority of pathologists is no measure of professional competence. Forensic evidence based on previous precedents and specialist experience, and not conjectures should be the essence of any meaningful truth-finding exercise.

It is usually disingenuous and pointless to assume another chance event as having taken place to be the cause of death, just because it is possible. Suggesting the unlikely pathologically-unevidenced diagnosis of acute myocarditis is arguably simply a guesstimate. Whichever is more probable and plausible is usually the truth, to paraphrase the legendary Sherlock Holmes.

Unfortunately, because of these glaring slants to the report, questions will continue to linger as to whether this report is truly independent and whether all the inquiry members are in agreement with the findings.

The legal standing of the report is still questionable, and may be challenged in a proper court. It might be better to have a public inquiry where all queries and representation can be made known to the satisfaction of the public, and especially, the victim's family.

To add salt to injury, doctors are aghast and very alarmed that the police had raided the UMMC pathologist's office and taken the material records of his autopsy findings. We are also shocked about media reports that tissue samples for toxicology from the second post-mortem, which had meant to be sent to an independent laboratory in Australia had been intercepted and seized by the police.
We certainly hope that this is untrue.

Toxicological studies should always be allowed to enable proper and independent discovery of the truth. Denial of such a legitimate avenue for forensic finding would prejudice against the police, and make their action that much more difficult to accept or to tolerate.

Moreover, this arbitrary seizure of the pathologist's medical records from his office in UMMC, is reprehensible, unprecedented and certainly breaches normal procedures of medico-legal discovery. Usually only detailed reports are obtained from court-approved injunctions and demands.

Medical records and details are nominally the property of the physician in charge or the facility where he practices, and should only be made available under a court order, and are usually never confiscated or seizable by any enforcement authority.

There are clear procedures to be followed, and are well articulated in handbooks for the police and enforcement authorities, clearly established by the UN Center for Human Rights. I'd like to reiterate that:
"International humanitarian law prohibits the following acts in all situations:

- murder;

- torture;

- corporal punishment;

- mutilation;

- outrages upon personal dignity;

- hostage-taking;

- collective punishment;

- executions without regular trial;

- cruel or degrading treatment."

Such extrajudicial actions should never be made in a climate of intimidating circumstances just because these events may mar the good name and professionalism of the police force.

It is difficult to comment on the public-worthiness of this inquiry, the 10-member panel of which incidentally incorporated 2 foreign forensic specialists. At best this inquiry had added to the confusion of being a third interpretation into this sad case of custodial death but it did little to refute the probability of torture and its possible link to the death of the detainee.

Any custodial death in any instance the world over, is inexcusable, wrong and criminal. The UN Human Rights Committee has defined "Extralegal, arbitrary or summary executions as deprivation of life without full judicial process, and with the involvement, complicity, tolerance or acquiescence of the Government or its agents. This includes death through the use of excessive force by police or security forces."

Torture is further defined by the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) and its Committee against Torture (CAT) as: "Any act committed with intent to cause severe pain or suffering, whether mental or physical, for purposes such as: (a) obtaining information or a confession; (b) punishing, intimidating or coercing."

Therefore, torture of any one suspect or detainee or prisoner is never condoned, whether this leads on to death is immaterial (but which only adds to the grievousness of the crime), and is liable for prosecution in any international court of law.

Kugan's custodial death and other possible past custodial deaths should be given a truly independent investigation by a publicly open Royal Commission or Inquiry or even by SUHAKAM.

It is time that we adhere to humanitarian principles as we grapple with our modernisation to become a developed people and nation. Our human development index as a civilised nation must necessarily rise proportionately.

We call on the police and law enforcement agencies to respect these tenets of modern life and human rights and urge them to abide by these nondiscriminatory rules as a norm. Only then, can we believe and respect their true and usual professionalism again.


loonshin said...

Food for thought:
"I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity."

~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

nckeat88 said...

I think seniority of 10 experts DO have some measure of professional competence.

I would suggest the MMA request a scientific conference regarding this matter on how they arrive this conclusion.

Think again, if the conclusion would be the other way which the victim death is directly linked to the blunt trauma, would any further questions being asked to query the commiittee? Can the police query the committee members for giving conclusions that aginst them?
The is the problem, we only choose to believe what WE want to believe.

At least 21 luxury terrorized car owners got their car back due to the police 'torture'.