(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): The question uppermost in the minds of
Malaysians is whether the appointment of former
Attorney-General Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman as the new Suhakam chairman is an omen
that Suhakam will be reduced
to a pale shadow of its present role – which is already a far cry from
national expectations and the intent and purpose of the Human Rights Commission
of Malaysia Act 1999 to protect and promote human rights in the country.
Today marks the end of the first two-year
appointment of Suhakam commissioners under the chairmanship of Tan Sri Musa
Hitam but the assessments of the successes
and failures of the first two-year Suhakam appointments which should be
taking place are being displaced by
all-round concerns and alarm as to whether the second Suhakam appointments would
be even more ineffective, not only with the appointment of Abu Talib as Chairman
but by the dropping of four Suhakam
Commissioners, Tan Sri Anuar Zainal Abdin, Prof. Mehrun Siraj, Datuk Mahadev
Shankar and Dr. Salleh Mohd. Nor.
All the four Suhakam commissioners who have
been dropped and not re-appointed had served
in the Suhakam Complaints and Inquiries Working Group which had given the
Suhakam whatever “bite” it had been able to show in the last
two years, best reflected in
the 66-page Kesas Highway Incident inquiry report made public on 20th
August 2001 on the widespread
police violations of human rights against peaceful protestors at the Kesas
Highway on November 5, 2000.
failure of the government and the police for the past eight months to
respond to the findings and recommendations of the Suhakam inquiry report
on the Kesas Highway, which was an indictment of police abuses - such as unnecessary use of excessive force, tear gas
and water cannon; use of force including assault
against persons attempting to get away from the scene rather than to
overcome the resistance to the order to disperse; causing injury to persons in
detention and delay and failure to provide
medical treatment and medication to those injured;
cruel and inhuman treatment of detainees – is a mockery of government
profession of respect for the Suhakam seriously carrying out its statutory
duties to protect and promote human rights.
Although the Suhakam Complaints and Inquiries
Working Group had not been able to fulfil all public expectations, and its
greatest blot is the failure to hold an inquiry into the Kampong Medan racial
attacks in March last year which claimed six lives and injured some hundred
people, Malaysians are entitled to ask what is the message the government seeks
to convey by openly axing the
Suhakam commissioners who had formed the backbone
of this Suhakam working group?
Is it that there would not be anymore Sukaham
inquiries and reports like the one on the widespread human rights violations by
the police in the Kesas Highway Incident?
Abu Talib’s appointment as Suhakam Chairman
has rightly and naturally aroused reservations about the credibility and
independence of Suhakam as his 14-year tenure
as Attorney-General 1980-1993 had been marked by several controversies
which raised disturbing questions about his credibility, independence and
In fact, in January 1990, I had written
formally as Parliamentary Opposition Leader to the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri.
Dr. Mahathir Mohamad asking for the invoking of Article 145 of the
Constitution to establish a tribunal to remove Abu Talib as Attorney-General
because of the “nation-wide loss of public confidence, credibility and even
legitimacy as a result of his improper, unjustifiable and unlawful decision”
to destroy the Vijandran videotapes and photographs.
Although Abu Talib had acquitted himself well
in the Commission of Inquiry into the Anwar Ibrahim “black eye”, with the
former Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Rahim Noor admitting that he was the
“culprit” and that the “black eye” was not self-inflicted, it is very
legitimate for Malaysians to ask whether Abu Talib can stop being a “policy
implementor” and act independently to carry out statutory duties as Suhakam
Chairman which can be a variance and even in
conflict with the existing human rights policy of the government.
For a start, is Abu Talib prepared to honour
the Suhakam commitment made last week to conduct an inquiry into the detention
of the six reformasi activists, Mohamad Ezam Mohamad Nor, Hishamuddin Rais, Chua Tian Chang,
Saari Sungib, Badrulamin Bahron and Lokman Noor Adam, under the Internal
Security Act and which was one reason for the six to end their
recent 11-day hunger strike?
Furthermore, is Abu
Talib prepared to openly express his support for the Suhakam position that
detention-without-trial laws like
the Internal Security Act constitutes a gross human rights violation and should
be repealed or is he going to reverse the Suhakam position to support
legislation like the ISA?