Proposed  formation of an Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Union (APPU) for  Parliamentarians  to protect and promote human rights and democracy  in the region

Media Conference Statement
by Lim Kit Siang 

(Ottawa, Canada, Wednesday): Firstly let me place on public record my thanks to Roger Clarke, Secretary-General, Amnesty International  Canada,  Margaret John, Amnesty International Co-ordinator for Malaysia and Singapore,   Sheila Finestone and Shaughnessy Cohen of Inter-Parliamentary Union, Canada, Colleen Beaumier, Chairperson of the Canadian Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Human Rights for their hospitality during my visit and their concern and support for Lim Guan Eng, a Malaysian MP in prison exactly three months  today as part of  two concurrent 18-month jail sentences, not for any high crime of robbery, arson, rape, murder or criminal breach of trust, but for defending the honour, human rights and women's rights of an underaged 15-year-old girl, the victim of statutory rape  when the accused  antagonist was the most powerful government political leader in her state.  Amnesty International has declared Guan Eng a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for expressing his opinion and for fulfilling his duties as a parliamentarian.

I also thank MPs from all political parties in the Canadian Parliament who  showed their concern at the violation of the human rights of MP Lim Guan Eng during the IPU Canada luncheon  at the Canadian Parliament yesterday and are doing their utmost to seek his early release from prison and return to Parliament.

As this is my first visit to Canada, I wish also to take this opportunity to thank Canadians for their support, sympathy and solidarity when 11 years ago in 1987,  I was detained for the second time under the Internal Security Act for 18 months,  in particular the Toronto Amnesty International which "adopted" me and launched a special campaign for my release.  I hope there would be no  third spell for me under the Internal Security Act.

I am enroute to the international human rights conference on Universal Rights and Human Values  in Edmonton later this week and I find my brief visit to Ottawa  most useful and worthwhile.

1998 is an important year for human rights. It  is the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and this is why  1998 has been designated by the United Nations General Assembly as the International Human Rights Year. This is also the year for  the five-year implementation review of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. (VDPA).

The Vienna Declaration  not only reaffirmed the universality, their equal value and indivisibility of  human rights, that human rights and fundamental freedoms  are  the birthright of all human beings, it also underlined that the promotion and protection of all human rights is  a legitimate concern of the international community.

In this connection, I wish to commend the Canadian Government and the Canadian Parliament for their continuing concern about human rights in Malaysia. The case of the violation of the human rights of  Malaysian Member of Parliament Lim Guan Eng had been repeatedly raised in the Canadian Parliament, the most recent occasion being yesterday.

I met the Canadian Foreign Minister,  Lloyd Axworthy in Kuala Lumpur when he was in  Malaysia for the APEC Conference earlier this month, and he expressed the Canadian government's concern in the case.

Malaysia is undergoing a multitude of crisis - not only the worst economic and political crisis in the nation's history, but also the crisis of confidence in the independence of judiciary, the rule of law and the entire system of democratic governance - highlighted and symbolised by the cases and trials  of Guan Eng, , NGO activist, Irene Fernandez and  former Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim.  There is in Malaysia  a political ferment for change for justice, human rights and democracy.

  The Canadian Government has been more effective than other governments to carry out the Vienna Declaration mandate to promote and protect human rights in the international community.

In the final analysis, the struggle for justice,  human rights and democracy in any country  must be achieved through the efforts and sacrifice of the people themselves and not through the  intervention of any foreign power, and although international support and solidarity is most welcome and even needed as part of the international promotion and protection of human rights, it must be extended without undermining the local movement for change and reform.

It is most unfortunate that the infelicity of the US Vice President Al Gore's speech of support for political reforms in Malaysia, both in the inappropriate choice of venue and use of words, had been twisted and exploited to result in  a setback to the very cause he had wanted to express sympathy and solidarity.

May be in the five-year review of the implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations General Assembly should give careful thought as to how  nations and the international community can more effectively  promote and protect human rights worldwide without raising the spectre and ogre of foreign interference in the domestic affairs of nations.

There is one idea which I  wish to broach for general consideration in this regard - the formation of an Asia-Pacific  Parliamentary Union (APPU) for Parliamentarians to promote and protect human rights and democracy in the region, which should hold parallel meetings with each APEC Leaders' Summit, as  part of the campaign to ensure that APEC integrate human rights into its agenda, in line with the Vienna Declaration's emphasis  that all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and  the interrelationship between democracy, development and respect for human rights.

While the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious specificities have to be borne in mind in the world-wide  promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, they cannot be allowed to translate the whole human rights debate into a simplistic choice between prosperity or  freedom, development or democracy,  stability or respect for human rights.

The world has still a long way to go to promote and protect human rights in the international community.  Although the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action was meant to chart the course of human rights, democracy and development,  the sad fact in the past five years is that in many countries in the world, the VDPA had been  completely ignored, whether by governments, Parliaments or nations.

Can the five-year implementation review of the VDPA make it  a meaningful  and important document for the promotion and protection of human rights in various areas and a catalyst for democracy and development in the international community?  This is the challenge of mankind on the threshhold of the new millennium.


*Lim Kit Siang - Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Democratic Action Party Secretary-General & Member of Parliament for Tanjong