Speaking at the 11th Malaysian Law Conference yesterday, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Dr. Rais Yatim, returned to the theme which he first raised a week ago when he proposed that the United States should be brought to the International Court of Justice to face charges of causing the death of innocent people in its war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
He had then publicly suggested that Malaysia should initiate the tabling of a resolution in the United Nations and the filing of a petition to bring the US to the International Court of Justice.
However, at the two Cabinet meetings held since then, Rais never proposed that the government take an official stand that the US is waging an illegal war in violation of international law, with him subsequently explaining that his idea was to “stir” political discussion.
This is probably in the same way Rais “stirred” discussion about gross abuses of power and human rights violations in Malaysia in his book "Freedom under Executive Power in Malaysia - A study of executive supremacy" which is totally devoid of any intellectual conviction on his part as Rais made the startling confession that it was “merely an academic study” which should not be held against him for the rest of his life and declared: “I don’t stand by what is studied academically”. By the same logic, no one should hold against Rais what he said “academically” although in his capacity as Cabinet Minister!
It is most telling when The Star today reported:
“Asked at a press conference whether it was a conflict for Malaysia to ask for proof of Osama bin Laden’s criminality when the Government itself refused to give reasons for detention under the Internal Security Act here, he declined to answer.”
Rais knew that he had been caught in a tangle of multiple contradictions, within himself on his past and present and with other Cabinet Ministers. Foreign Minister, Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar of instance had gone on record expressing satisfaction with the “proof” of Osama bin Laden’s involvement in the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington after he was shown a report by the US Ambassador to Malaysia Marie Huhtala at the start of the US airstrikes last month.
Yesterday, Rais even suggested that the existing 12 conventions on anti-terrorism be made operative even though America had not ratified the majority of them.
Is this the stand of the Malaysian government, which has itself an abysmal record as it has only ratified five out of 25 major international human rights instruments? And to date, the Cabinet has shown no inclination to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, although they were specifically recommended for ratification by the Suhakam in its first annual report in April this year!
Will the Malaysian Government go along with Rais’ proposal that the existing 12 conventions on anti-terrorism be made operative - although Malaysia like America had not ratified the majority of them - and that it be made binding on all nations of the international community whether they had ratified them or not? If this is not the Malaysian government’s stand, what is the use and purpose of a Cabinet Minister making such a public proposal?
Rais has completely upstaged the Foreign Minister when he implied that the United States had acted like a “rogue state” in conducting an illegal war in Afghanistan in violation of 12 international conventions against terrorism and should be hauled before the International Court of Justice as Hamid Albar dared not make such a proposal at the various international conferences, like the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), which he attended.
Suhakam and in particular its chairman, Tan Sri Musa Hitam, should respond to Rais’ contemptuous mockery of the Human Rights Commission as having been reduced to a “whimpering” state after having “lost its shrill voice on the violation of human rights” in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
On Sunday, I had a two-hour frank and no-holds-barred discussion with Musa in Kuala Lumpur on the “democracy and human rights taking a backseat” controversy, and Musa clarified that he had never recommended that Suhakam should put democracy and human rights in the backseat in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
He assured me that Suhakam would continue to carry out its statutory duties to “promote and protect” human rights in Malaysia as spelt out in the Human Rights Commission Act 1999 and that none of its ongoing programmes would be affected or downgraded.
However, the past week has highlighted the grave credibility gap afflicting Suhakam as neither Musa’s clarification nor assurance has been able to win public confidence or trust - not only among NGOs, human rights activists and the general public but even among government leaders like Rais who all assume that Suhakam has made a policy decision to put democracy and human rights in the backseat.
In the circumstances, Suhakam must come out with a clear policy statement on its perceptions, role and focus on democracy and human rights in the post-September 11 scenario, whether it accepts that the true and correct lesson to draw is that democracy and human rights must be strengthened rather than weakened in the aftermath of September 11 to better counter the threat of terrorism. After all, Malaysians are not asking for absolute democracy or unlimited liberties but greater respect for democratic freedoms and human rights which will not in any manner undermine law and order or threaten the fabric of Malaysian society.
Suhakam should seriously and urgently convene a national conference of the various government officials, all political parties, NGOs and the civil society not only to restore public confidence that it had not jettisoned democracy and human rights to the backseat to become a whimpering outfit but still capable of continuing to vigorously and vociferously protect and promote human rights, but also to synthesise the views of as broad a national cross-section of Malaysians as possible as to the proper place of democracy and human rights in the country after September 11.