Restoration of a just rule of law and a truly independent judiciary the most pressing issues in the national agenda

Speech - at the Barisan Alternative ceramah held at Dome, Komtar
by Lim Kit Siang 

(Penang, Thursday): A number of Governments have expressed their outrage over the manner in which the Anwar trial was conducted and his sentencing.  These statements, and the worldwide outpouring of editorial scorn for the Malaysian judiciary, have turned Malaysia into a virtual pariah state.  It is significant that editorials were not confined to those by newspapers in the west but included those in the region such as Thailand, Philippines and Indoneisa.

Never in our entire history has Malaysia faced the odium which it now faces. Malaysians are ashamed, and rightly so. The country pays a heavy price, not just in terms of the damage to its image, but there are also  inevitable economic consequences.

The already weak investment climate, a fact even acknowledged by the Finance Minister Tun Daim,  is further damaged. It is clear that foreign investors will think twice before they consider investing in Malaysia. They no longer have confidence in the fairness of the Malaysian system of justice, be it in high-profile criminal or civil  cases as illustrated by the M.G.G. Pillai defamation case.

Together with public opinion in this country, foreign perceptions of Malaysian justice have served notice on the Government that the independence and integrity of the judiciary must be restored if Malaysia is to regain its status as a nation of laws rather than one in which the system is used by an autocratic regime to sustain itself in power at all costs.

The message is clear - the restoration of the just  rule of law and a truly  independent judiciary and respect for constitutional rights are the most pressing issues on the nation’s agenda.

The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad  can no longer avoid facing reality. Reckless statements are more likely to inflict further damage and push the country further down the slippery path of being  ostracized internationally.

The Prime Minister, echoed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Datuk Syed Hamid Albar  and the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department responsible for law and justice, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim  have in the past week  displayed a total lack of concern about the damage done to Malaysia’s larger national interest as a result of the political persecution of Anwar. In fact,  their respective statements defending the indefensible have only  invited further ridicule.

Syed Hamid Albar said statements made by foreign countries that the Judiciary was under the control of the Executive was utter nonsense and that right from the beginning, it was Anwar who chose to turn the trial into a political drama to champion his own political cause and attack the Government.

Whitewashing the trial in this manner will cut no ice. Had Dr. Mahathir been seriously concerned about treating the trial as a straightforward criminal case, he should have willingly responded to the defence subpoena to give testimony at the Anwar trial. It is Mahathir  who  turned the trial into a political trial from the very onset with his many pronouncements about Anwar’s guilt.

Rais Yatim invented a fictitious United Nations instrument to accuse the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the European Union nations of violating the  "International Recognition of Judicial Process" Agreement in attacking Malaysia over Anwar’s trial and sentence.

He said the nations which had criticised the Malaysian Judiciary were clearly violating such an  agreement although they were all signatories as under the United Nations-approved  "understanding,'' no country should criticise the legal  process of another member country.

Rais Yatim’s claim made me search high and low for such an agreement, as  I had
never  heard that there is  an United Nations instrument  which barred  countries from criticising another member country whose judicial process fell far short of the acceptable minimum international norms of judicial accountability, independence, impartiality and integrity.

I searched the Internet in vain for such an international instrument. But I found that I was not the only who was trying to hunt down this elusive UN instrument.

In desperation, I turned to the United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Dato’ Param Cumaraswamy who has been occupying this important international  office for the past six years since 1994 and if anyone should know about such an instrument, there could not be another.

When I contacted him yesterday, Param told me that he was also looking high and low for such an instrument, contacting the United Nations in New York to no avail.

Rais had also claimed that other Malaysian ministers too had been sentenced by the courts before, saying  "Mentris Besar have been sentenced to jail...state exco members here have to undergo the same process, not different from what Anwar went through" to fortify his argument that  the judicial system of the  country should be respected by others even if the decisions made were not acceptable to them.

Contrary to what Rais claimed, no Barisan Nasional minister,  Chief Minister or Mentri Besar  had been convicted during Mahathir’s tenure of office as Prime Minister for over 19 years..

As Minister in charge of law and justice, Rais should impress on the Cabinet that the restoration of a just rule of law and a truly independent judiciary  are the most pressing issues in the national agenda and which will determine his success or failure as a Minister on his return to the Cabinet.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman