Parliament tomorrow should hold emergency debate to accord recognition that Param Cumaraswamy,  U.N.special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers,  is  entitled to immunity from legal proceedings as otherwise the Malaysian taxpayers may have to pay over RM430 million in legal costs and expenses


Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang
 

(Petaling Jaya,  Wednesday): The new tenth Parliament tomorrow should hold an emergency debate to accord recognition that Datuk Param Cumaraswamy,  U.N.special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers,  is  entitled to immunity from legal proceedings as otherwise the Malaysian taxpayers may have to pay over RM430 million in legal costs and expenses.

The United Nations has already submitted a claim to the Malaysian Government, asking for reimbursement of  RM420,000 in legal expenses which it has paid on behalf of Param Cumaraswamy.

 In a Press release last week, the United Nations  Economic and Social Council (Ecosoc),  which had discussed this issue at its meeting in New York, said the claim was mentioned in a letter from UN secretary-general Kofi  Annan  to Ecosoc.

Kofi said the legal expenses had been accumulating since January 1997 and currently amounted to US$110,886.91 (RM420,000). He said the UN maintained that the Malaysian Government was ultimately responsible for the costs, expenses and damages in light of the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on April 29.

The ICJ had upheld Param's immunity from four defamation suits totalling RM426 million  brought against him by Malaysian companies as it found that he had spoken the words in his capacity as a UN special rapporteur. The suits were filed over a 1995 article entitled "Malaysian Justice on Trial" in a  magazine published by Euromoney Plc. in London.

The ICJ also stated that Param was to be held "financially harmless"  from costs imposed by the Malaysian courts. The four suits are currently pending in the High Court and none have been struck out or  discontinued.

But Malaysian courts have ruled that Param is not covered by the international court's ruling.

Kofi also said the expenses would accumulate as the four law suits  were proceeding, adding that the Government's intervention, by issuing a certificate to give effect to Param's immunity, would avoid further  financial burden on the UN and the Malaysian Government.

United Nations Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs and Legal Counsel Hans Corell who addressed the Ecosoc meeting, said Malaysia had ratified the UN Convention on the Privileges and Immunities which states that an advisory opinion was decisive.

When a Government intervened in the courts to give effect to its  international treaty obligations, he said, it was not interfering with the independence of the judiciary.

Corell said if damages were eventually awarded against Param, the UN must indemnify him and it would then have to seek reimbursement  from Malaysia.

One of the four  cases is  due to be mentioned on January 20. One case is up for appeal,  in another two Param is seeking to strike out a writ on the grounds that he has immunity and  another is up for hearing.

If Param loses in all the four defamation suits totalling RM426 million,  the UN would pay the damages and costs on his behalf and it would  seek reimbursement from the Malaysian government.

This is a most self-defeating government attitude, refusing to honour our international commitments to implement the binding terms of the World Courtís decision that the U.N.special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Param Cumaraswamy, is  entitled to immunity from legal proceedings and ending with the taxpayers may be having to reimburse the United Nations  over RM430 million in damages and legal costs.

The new Parliament cannot allow such folly to continue for another day as such a farce had been dragging out for more than four years.  It should hold an emergency debate to instruct the Malaysian government to immediately implement the World Courtís advisory opinion, respect Paramís immunity from legal proceedings and save the country from having to eventually pay RM430 million for Paramís legal costs and expenses.

(22/12/99)


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman