A forum held yesterday in conjunction with the 14th anniversary of Operation Lalang has highlighted one long-standing flaw of the judicial system - the lack of sensitivity of the judges on the importance and centrality of human rights.
Former Member of Parliament Dominic Puthucheary told the forum that judges fail in their duties to the public if they put too much trust in the authorities alone.
He said that when he read the judgements of the various judges who heard habeas corpus applications, he was struck by their faith in the administration as they did not look beyond the affidavit of the Minister.
One of the recommendations of the joint report of the International Bar Association, the ICJ Center for Independence of Judges and Lawyers, the Commonwealth Lawyers’ Association and the Union Internatonale Des Avocates entitled “Justice In Jeopardy: Malaysia 2000” called for the holding of training sessions on human rights law for judges but this has yet to be adopted.
Although human rights education is one of the statutory duties of Suhakam under the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999, Suhakam has to date not embarked on any programme to sensitive judges on human rights.
Malaysia lags behind many countries in giving attention and priority to human rights education in general and to the judiciary in particular.
In 1994, the United Nations General Assembly, convinced of the importance of human rights education as a comprehensive, life-long process, officially proclaimed 1995-2004 the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education. This commitment has since given rise to concrete international, regional, national and local activities in keeping with the objectives laid down in the Plan of Action for the Decade.
In line with the UN Human Rights Education Decade, the United Nations convened an expert meeting to draft a Human Rights Manual for Judges and Lawyers in Geneva in May 1997.
The Manual is intended to constitute a comprehensive curriculum for the training of judges and lawyers on international human rights standards, to be adapted case by case to the particular national needs and legal systems.
At the half-way point into the Decade in May 2000, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in cooperation with UNESCO, conducted a mid-term global evaluation to take stock of human rights education programmes, materials and resources that were available around the world.
All governments were invited to give a progress report of the current state of human rights education, but the United Nations drew a blank as far as Malaysia, which was one of the countries which did not submit any mid-term progress report on the Human Rights Education Decade as nothing had been done and there was nothing to report.
As far as Malaysia was concerned, the United Nations Decadefor Human Rights Education never existed.
Malaysia should make amends. For a start, the Chief Justice, Tan Sri Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah should work in unison with Suhakam to draft a human rights manual for the Malaysian judiciary as well as draw up a human rights education programme for judges to sensitise them on the importance of human rights.