Give Abdullah another chance to prove government’s seriousness to protect and promote human rights by coming out with a serious and responsible response to Suhakam report on widespread police human rights abuses at Kesas Highway

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Monday): Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said yesterday that he is heading a Cabinet sub-committee to study the Suhakam report on widespread police human rights  violations when dispersing an illegal at Kesas Highway last November.

Launching the first Malaysian  Human Rights Day yesterday, Abdullah said he viewed seriously Suhakam findings and allegations of police brutality and the use of excessive force during the incident.

He said: "If it is true that one of those detained had to endure embarrassment while in the police lock-up, then the procedures (on detainees) will have to be reviewed.

"If it is true that the police used force when the crowd was already dispersing, then the affected procedures will also be reviewed."

He  gave an assurance that there would be no cover-up if police had   violated the law in the incident.

"But we need to study the report before we can come to a conclusion.   Several other parties need to study the report. The police have conducted theirs and submitted their views.

"We want to attend to it as quickly as we can, there is no reason to delay."

These statements and assurances would have more credibility if they had been made immediately after the publication of the Suhakam inquiry report, and not three weeks later, after the Prime Minister and the Inspector-General of Police had condemned it for being biased, unrealistic, Western-influenced and anti-national.

Abdullah’s assurances yesterday  have even less credibility when the Deputy Prime Minister chose to adopt and  publicly reiterate the Inspector-General of Police’s strictures against the Suhakam report for being “biased and idealistic” - “derived from the perspective of an observer and not law enforcers faced with a large group of people”.

How can Abdullah expect public confidence that he would be fair and   impartial as chairman of the Cabinet sub-committee and would not condone police violation of human rights at Kesas Highway last November when he is already spouting the IGP line that the Suhakam report is “biased and idealistic” even before the sub-committee had met?

Abdullah’s bias is also reflected in his false argument that the government was not prepared “to take the risk in allowing total freedom of civil and political rights which can result in tensions and ethnic clashes" as nobody is  asking for such “total” or absolute rights or freedoms.

Abdullah is right when he said that  human rights are not only related to civil and political matters but also to the economy, social issues, culture, gender equality and religion.

Malaysians are still waiting for a full government statement to explain why Malaysia was ranked a lowly 56th position in the Human Development Index (HDI) in the 2001 report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
Human Development Report 2001 released at the end of July, and blacked out by the national news agency, Bernama and the mainstream newspapers - an ostrich-like reaction signifying the displeasure of the Malaysian government at such ranking!

Abdullah should direct the issue of an official statement as  to why Malaysia’s HDI not only  trails behind developed countries like Norway, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Belgium, United States, Ireland, Netherlands, Japan, Finland, Switzerland, Luxembourg, France, United Kingdom, Denmark, Austria, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand and Italy - the top 20 nations  - but even behind countries like Malta (No.30),  Barbados (No. 31), Argentina (No. 34), Slovakia (No. 35), Hungary (No. 36), Uruguay (No. 37), Poland (No. 38), Chile (No. 39), Bahrain (No. 40), Costa Rica (No. 41), Bahamas (No.42), Kuwait (No. 43), Estonia (No. 44), United Arab Emirates (No. 45), Croatia (No. 46), Lithuania (No. 47), Qatar (No. 48), Trinidad and Tabago (No. 49), Latvia (No. 50),  Mexico (No. 51), Panama (No. 52), Belarus (No. 53), Belize (No. 54), Russian Federation (No. 55).

Rankings by HDI and by GDP per capita can be quite different, showing that countries do not have to wait for economic prosperity to make progress in human development.

The HDI measures the overall achievements in a country in three basic dimensions of human development - longevity, knowledge and a decent standard of living.  It is measured by life expectancy, educational attainment (adult literacy and combined primary, secondary and tertiary enrolment) and adjusted income per capita in purchasing power parity (PPP) US dollars.  The
HDI is a summary, not a comprehensive measure of human development.

The question Abdullah should address is why Malaysians should be denied increasing political and civil rights in tandem with increasing social, economic and cultural rights, instead of embarking of a contrarian process as foreshadowed by the threat  by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad of the government’s decision to break international norms on democracy and human rights not for national security but the ruling parties’ political security.

Be that as it may, despite widespread reservations and skepticisms, Malaysians should give Abdullah and the Cabinet sub-committee another chance to prove the government’s seriousness to protect and promote human rights by coming out with a serious and responsible response to Suhakam report on widespread police human rights abuses at Kesas Highway - but Abdullah should set a clear timeframe for the report of the Cabinet sub-committee on Kesas Highway Incident.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman