(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): The Malaysian Human Rights Commission’s (Suhakam) first annual report to Parliament in April would leave a big hole if there is no important reference to the human right to the rule of law and a competent, independent and impartial judiciary.
This reminder to Suhakam is timely as this appears to be the most conspicuous omission in the overview given by the Suhakam chairman, Tan Sri Musa Hitam, to the press yesterday about the first Suhakam annual report to be tabled in Parliament in April.
The listing in the first Suhakam annual report of the laws relevant to issues relating to human rights like the Internal Security Act, Printing Presses and Publications Act, Police Act, Official Secrets Act and Sedition Act is no great leap in the battle for human rights and it is very disappointing that it would not contain any findings and recommendations of the Suhakam’s study into these laws as the annual report only covered Suhakam’s activities up to December 31 last year.
For the same reason, the outcome of the ongoing Suhakam inquiry into allegations of abuse of powers by the police on demonstrators at the Kesas Highway will only be included in Suhakam's second report next year.
Musa’s revelation that the first Suhakam report would recommend the legitimisation of peaceful demonstrations and recommend guidelines on "ways and means to demonstrate" is most heartening.
However, what is most disconcerting and not calculated to enhance its credibility is Suhakam’s silence at the recent spate of incidents where the police have suddenly become very trigger-happy in firing tear gas and chemically-laced water into peaceful gatherings and initiating arrests, such as the incidents in Sabak Bernam, Kubang Pasu, the Dang Wangi police station in Kuala Lumpur, the Kulim court house and the "Save Damansara school" Pudu-Damansara walkathon - as these are human rights violations which cannot wait until the second Suhakam report in 2002 to be addressed!
For the sake of its own credibility and integrity, Suhakam cannot remain blind and deaf to the recent spate of high-handed and repressive police actions against Opposition gatherings where the police seemed to acting under a new directive disregarding the traditional restraints based on the concept of minimum force and reasonableness governing police handling of crowds.
For instance, how can Suhakam remain “above the fray” when 46 participants of the “Save Damansara School” walkathon last Sunday were treated like criminals by the police upon their arrest, requiring the fingerprints of all 10 digits to be recorded in three separate documents. In addition, police also took mugshots of each participant.
Everyone of the 46 “Save Damansara School” walkers arrested are entitled to feel outraged by the police treatment, as they are not criminals but law-abiding Malaysians who merely want to save the original Damansara school from being closed.
In contrast, the former Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Rahim Noor, who had admitted to the crime of assaulting former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim while handcuffed and blindfolded to an inch of his life, has yet to spend a minute in a police station as a convicted criminal, let alone having all his ten fingers thumb-printed and mugshot taken, although the crime took place some 30 months ago!
The biggest concern, however, is whether the first Suhakam annual report would leave a big hole by totally ignoring the important human right to the rule of law and a competent, independent and impartial judiciary especially when last year, Malaysia’s system of justice reached the height of international ignominy when it drew so many adverse worldwide condemnations, particularly the international legal and judicial community’s indictment in “Justice in Jeopardy: Malaysia 2000”.
The important right to justice as a precondition to protect and promote human rights has been repeatedly declared and upheld in international human rights instruments, whether the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the International Covenants on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and on Civil and Political Rights.
The Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in fact,
"Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law".
Suhakam should ensure that there is no such important omission in its first annual report, and instead should spell out loud and clear the fundamental human right to the rule of law and a competent, independent and impartial judiciary, the factors which undermine their realisation and the progress and prospects of the restoration of a just rule of law and a truly independent judiciary.