1998 is the Human Rights Year, which is to be a universal event for the international community and all countries and peoples to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
On 10 December 1948, the international community adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - a common standard of achievement, which recognized the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all people in all nations. The 50th Anniversary of this historic Declaration is meant to bring together individuals, organizations and States to look back with pride on many accomplishments of humanity and to consider the lessons learned over the past 50 years in the promotion and protection of human rights. More importantly, this anniversary is to serve as the source of a reinvigorated commitment by the international community to all that still must be done to ensure the realization and universality of human rights for all people.
The Malaysian Government, however, is especially mute in the 50th commemoration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as if it wants the universal anniversary to be passed largely unmarked and unnoticed.
The Malaysian Government has its own reasons in not wanting to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or to take part in the universal movement to promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law in all parts of the world.
After all, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad is on record as questioning the universality of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Another more pertinent reason, however, is that 1998 is shaping up to be a year of setback for democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Malaysia as evidenced by the imprisonment of DAP MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Guan Eng not for any crime but for courageously discharging his duties as a Member of Parliament to protect the honour, human rights and women rights of a 15-year-old girl, the use of the Internal Security Act against dissent, the abuses of power in the sacking and arrest of Anwar Ibrahim and the possibility of a larger crackdown against fundamental liberties after the APEC Summit.
The country and the world have just seen the first week of the trial of the century in Malaysia - the trial of former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim on first four criminal charges against him.
It is not only Anwar who is on trial, the system of justice and governance in Malaysia is also on trial.
The Malaysian judicial system had suffered its worst crisis of confidence 11 years ago when the Lord President, Tun Salleh Abas and two Supreme Court judges were sacked in the conflict between the executive and the judiciary in 1988. In the past decade, the crisis of confidence in the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary had not been resolved. Even worse, there has been further erosion of such confidence.
The rule of law and the system of justice is now undergoing another great test, and in a way, even more serious than the judiciary crisis of 1988 as this time, it would not only affect mainly the legal community and the informed society but the grass-roots throughout the country.
The rule of law and the system of justice would suffer irreparable damage if the people should reach a position where their minds are closed about any outcome of the courts as they have lost all confidence in the system of justice in politically-motivated trials.
This is why "Justice must not only be done, but be seen to be done" not only in court proceedings, but in the entire process resulting in the trial, including police investigations and the exercise of prosecutorial discretion.
The Anwar trial attracted intense national and international attention because of the manifest injustice of the case even before the start of the trial - in the manner of Anwar’s sacking from government and party, his trial and conviction by the media in total disregard of the principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty, his initial arrest under the Internal Security Act, his "black eye" while under police custody, refusal to commission independent investigations into the police bruality and failure to produce any outcome after more than one-and-a-half months of police investigations, and the refusal to grant bail to Anwar after his release under ISA.
The Anwar trial started badly with instant adverse international furore with the Prime Minister seen as dictating to the court.
Malaysia’s international image suffered another "black eye" on the very first day of the trial, when the trial judge refused to grant observer status to representatives from local and international human rights and legal groups - which has become an international norm in civilized international society. .
But the image and integrity of Malaysia’s system of governance took more body blows during the first week of the trial when the Special Branch director told the court on Wednesday about the Special Branch "trade secret" of "turning over" and "neutralising" witnesses to change the stand of the person concerned.
Today’s international mass media headlines of the Anwar trial has given another "black-eye" to Malaysia’s image, with headlines like: "Malaysia Police Official Says He would Lie" (Asian Wall Street Journal), "Police chief 'ready to lie over Anwar'" (The Times, United Kingdom), "Malaysia's intelligence chief says he would lie for Mahathir" (CNN), "Prosecution witness says would lie if told" (Reuters), "Key prosecution witness admits he might lie for Mahathir" (AFP) and "Police witness at Anwar trial says he would lie" (Melbourne Age).
Two of Anwar charges alleged that he committed corrupt practice by directing the Special Branch Director, Datuk Mohd Said Awang and the Deputy Director II, Amir Junus to extract retractions of earlier statements made by two persons. The question many people ask is if what Anwar had done was a crime, then both the Special Branch Director and Deputy Director had also taken part in the crime and why they were not charged or other action taken against them?
It would be a great national tragedy if the Anwar trial results in the system of justice and governance losing all credibility and legitimacy.
Malaysia should participate fully in the universal event to mark 1998 as the Human Rights Year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to start the process to restore democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the country.