Suhakam ISA inquiry has lost its raison díetre when it is more concerned about rehabilitation than fundamental violation of human rights of ISA

Media Statement 
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): The Chairman of the Suhakam Internal Security Act (ISA) public inquiry, Tan Sri Harun Hashim said yesterday that detention for two years under the ISA will be pointless in the absence of efforts to rehabilitate detainees.  In that case, detention was more punishment than rehabilitation and holding a detainee for a long period was costly.  

He said feedback from the Prisons Department indicated it was holding detainees on the orders of the authorities.  There was no rehabilitation programme of any sort, unlike the case of criminals, where the Prisons Department have rehabilitation programmes aimed at bringing them back into mainstream society.  

He said it is a waste of time and public money to hold them without any change forthcoming.  

I am totally aghast by Harunís comments which showed that the ISA inquiry has lost its raison díetre when it is more concerned about rehabilitation than fundamental violation of human rights of the draconian and anachronistic ISA.  

The Suhakam ISA inquiry seems to have lost sight of its very raison díetre to probe into the compatibility of the ISA with the human rights commitments of Malaysia as affirmed in the Federal Constitution and the nationís membership in the United Nations and is operating like a surrogate for the Auditor-General or the Parliamentary Accounts Committee, getting lost in the by-paths and alleys in investigating into the cost-effectiveness of the Kamunting Detention Centre in  holding ISA detainees.  

The Suhakam ISA Inquiry should quickly get back to the nub of Suhakamís very existence, to ascertain whether human rights have been violated and whether detainees should be incarcerated without trial and not whether they should be rehabilitated or how budgetary allocations for the Prisons Department can be spent more effectively! 

If a Human Rights Commission Inquiry in Burma had shown itself more concerned about the rehabilitation of Aung San Suu Kyi when she was in detention instead of her release, it would have sparked an  international outrage, and Harunís comments yesterday is no less offensive in the disregard and insensitivity to the Suhakamís statutory duty to protect and promote human rights.  

How is Suhakam performing its statutory duty to protect and promote human rights by being more concerned about rehabilitation than the very detention of ISA detainees?  

Harunís comments have gravely shaken public confidence in the Suhakam ISA inquiry but it is not too late to salvage it. 

The three-member Suhakam ISA inquiry should be fully aware that it is ridiculous and a farce if it concludes its proceedings without giving the Reformasi Six, namely Mohamad Ezam Mohamad Nor, Hishamuddin Rais, Chua Tian Chang, Saari Sungib, Badrulamin Bahron and Lokman Noor Adam,  an opportunity to appear and give personal testimony of the multiple gross violations of human rights in their ISA detentions.  

I had never agreed with the decision of the Reformasi Six to boycott the Suhakam ISA inquiry and had publicly called on them to  end their boycott to appear before the inquiry.

Their grave reservations about the scope of the Harun Hashim public inquiry were valid, and this was why I had repeatedly asked Suhakam to clarify whether the inquiry was  the  beginning of a  wide-ranging Suhakam review of the ISA including whether it should be repealed  or whether it would be  strictly limited to inquiry into the detention conditions of the ISA detainees, including their medical and visitation rights. 

As  Harun had  said during  the  Suhakam public inquiry in June that it  was  being held to give the commission, the public and the world ďa clear picture of the Internal Security ActĒ, and testimony given at the inquiry to date had gone well beyond the parameters about the detention conditions,  the Suhakam inquiry will be estopped  from preventing the Reformasi Six from giving   testimony,  submissions and proof  that the ISA constitutes multiple  fundamental  violations of human rights.  

If the Suhakam ISA inquiry closes its public hearings without giving the Reformasi Six another opportunity to appear before it, it will not only be a missed opportunity for  the Reformasi Six to let Malaysians and the world hear their first-hand  testimony, it will also be  a missed opportunity to Suhakam to prove that it is relevant to its  statutory mandate to promote and protect human rights and a credible institution where Malaysians can repose confidence to break new grounds and expand the frontiers of  human rights in the country in the 21st century.  


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman