Should Suhakam  spending over RM5 million a year and Suhakam Commissioners getting bigger allowances than MPs if they are not prepared to fulfill their statutory duty to be promoter and protector of human rights

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Monday): The fifth series of  police harassment, human rights violation and unlawful arrests  of DAP leaders in Pandamaran, Klang yesterday in connection with the peaceful and legitimate “No to 929” campaign mark four full  months of impotence,  failure and irrelevance  of the second Suhakam under the chairmanship of Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman to be the  promoter and protector of human rights as entrusted  by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia  Act 1999. 

Immediately after the first police harassment and unlawful criminalization of peaceful, legitimate and constitutional “No to 929” campaign in Ipoh on June 5, when I was arrested under the Sedition Act but never charged, and the third incident in Bentong on August 4 when the DAP MP for Batu Gajah, Fong Poh Kuan and 12 others were arrested, official reports had been  lodged with Suhakam against the police gross abuses of power and blatant violation of human rights. 

But Suhakam has proved to be completely impotent, ineffective and irrelevant to the promotion and protection of human rights  which is the very raison d’etre for its existence, as it has not been able to stop the police from continuing its  series of harassments and criminalization of peaceful and legitimate political activities to defend and uphold the 1957 Merdeka Constitution, the “social contract” and the 1963 Malaysia Agreement, as to date there had been five such unlawful police actions involving 32 arrests, viz: 

Ipoh                         June 5         1 person
Port Dickson          July 21        6 persons
Bentong               August 4     13 persons
Klang                 August 18        6 persons
Klang                 August 25        6 persons
Total                             `           32 arrests


The impotence, failure and irrelevance of Suhakam to discharge its statutory duty to  protect and promote human rights by educating  police officers as to their human rights responsibilities and to stop blatant police  human rights violations like the harassment and criminalization of peaceful and legitimate political activities such as “No to 929” campaign is only part of a larger failure, impotence and irrelevance  of the second Suhakam to perform  its statutory role as the protector and promoter of human rights. 

It also raises the fundamental question as to whether Suhakam should  be spending over RM5 million of taxpayers’ money a year and Suhakam Commissioners be given  bigger allowances and perks  than Members of Parliament if they are not prepared to fulfill their statutory duty to be promoter and protector of human rights. 

The 2001 Suhakam Annual Report, under the section “Human Rights Education for Police Officers” in Chapter 5 on “Report of the Education Working Group” said a second dialogue between Suhakam and the police in May 2001 reached agreement on the inclusion of human rights education for officers and that Suhakam would provide training for the lecturers at the police training colleges. 

One of Abu Talib’s first public functions as Suhakam Chairman was the human rights workshop for senior police officers at the police training centre in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur in June  which was  also attended by the Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Norian Mai and his deputy Tan Sri Jamil Johari – but his message that policing and human rights need not clash seemed to have fallen on deaf ears. 

Abu Talib’s caution to the senior police officers that “as a body of people vested with a vast range of powers, including power of arrest, use of force and the power to detain, the police can inadvertently be seen as violators or potential violaters of laws expressing human rights standards” might as well had not been delivered, or the series of police harassment, abuse  of powers and human rights violations in connection with the DAP’s “No to 929” campaign would not have  happened.  The police have clearly given  the unmistakable impression that it is dancing to the tune of the Barisan Nasional politicians to harass the Opposition rather than an impartial and independent custodian of law and order! 

Abu Talib should convene an emergency meeting of the second Suhakam to review its failure, impotence and irrelevance in its first four months in office to discharge its statutory duty to be protector and promoter of human rights, as the other major areas of its sins of omission and commission include: 

Wishy-washy position on Internal Security Act (ISA) after repudiating the ISA stand of the first Suhakam, complete silence on the repeated threats by UMNO leaders to use the ISA against dissent and critics of the proposal to use English to teach mathematics  and science in primary schools from Std. One and a Suhakam inquiry into the ISA  which prejudged the guilt of the detainees by focusing more on rehabilitation than on the injustice of the initial detention-without-trial and the exclusion of testimony from the Reformasi Six, namely Mohamad Ezam Mohamad Nor, Hishamuddin Rais, Chua Tian Chang, Saari Sungib, Badrulamin Bahron and Lokman Noor Adam;

Suhakam’s deafening silence on the human rights violations and implications of the conviction and two-year jail sentence of  Keadilan Youth chief Mohd Ezam Mohd Noor under the Official Secrets Act which  sent out the outrageous message to the nation and the world that in Malaysia corruption is no crime while exposing corruption is the heinous crime.   

Suhakam’s “eyes that see not, ears that hear not, mouths that speak not” attitude about the worsening violations of the fundamental rights to freedom of speech, expression and a free press in the past four months.  In organizing a media workshop as its only response, Suhakam has completely misconceived  itself as  a think-tank on human rights rather than a “protector and promoter”: of human rights as spelt out by its parent Act. 

There are enough wishy-washy “think-tanks” in the country and the country can do without another.  When Parliament passed the Suhakam Act, it  never intended to create another “think-tank” but a promoter and protector of human rights!

The second Suhakam has also forgotten its various promises and commitments when it took office four months ago, as for instance, in making public in the shortest possible time the Suhakam inquiry report into the Sarawak Native Customary Rights (NCR) land controversy which was headed by Datuk Dr. Salleh Mohd Nor, whose report was given approval in principle before the end of the two-year tenure of the first Suhakam.  Has the second Suhakam decided to keep the Salleh report on NCR land  a secret and if so, why?

Parliament when it reconvenes on Sept. 9 should conduct a far-ranging scrutiny of the second Suhakam’s performance in its first four months of office and send  out a clear and unmistakable reminder to the Suhakam Chairman and Commissioners on their statutory role to be the “protector and promoter’ of human rights and not to be a human rights “think-tank” avoiding taking positions on individual and specific human rights violations.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman