Abu Talib is right that Parliament had failed in not having a special debate on the Suhakam report but Suhakam has also failed its statutory responsibilities to protect and promote human rights under him
- DAP 2002 International Human Rights Day commemoration
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): I fully agree with the criticisms made by the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) Chairman Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman against Members of Parliament “who have not seen it fit” to debate the Suhakam annual reports and recommendations to create awareness of the human rights situation in Malaysia.
Apart from the speech by the DAP MP for Tanjong, Chow Kon Yeow on the 2001 Suhakam Annual Report during the committee stage debate of the 2003 Budget on the Foreign Ministry last month (which the Foreign Minister, Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar did not bother to reply), both the 2000 and 2001 Suhakam Annual reports as well as its other reports, such as the Kesas Highway Inquiry and on Freedom of Assembly, were as good as thrown into the Parliament rubbish dump!
If Parliament is not to continue as a disgraceful failure to uphold human rights in the country, it should treat Suhakam Annual Reports with greater respect and seriousness by introducing a standing arrangement whereby a two-day parliamentary debate on the Suhakam Annual Report must be held within two weeks of presentation of the report – with the Minister responsible for Suhakam presenting the motion, stating the government’s position and responses to the various Suhakam recommendations, observations and comments.
It is already bad enough and a terribly adverse reflection of the Malaysian human rights situation that Suhakam is treated like a pariah by the government without Parliament compounding the offence by completely ignoring the Suhakam annual reports.
However, although Abu Talib is right that Parliament had failed in not having a special debate and giving proper attention to the Suhakam annual reports, Suhakam has also failed its statutory responsibilities to protect and promote human rights especially under his chairmanship for the past eight months.
It should be noted that the Suhakam Annual Reports 2000 and 2001 which Parliament had irresponsibly ignored by not debating them, as well as the other Suhakam reports like the Kesas Highway Inquiry and Freedom of Assembly, were all published by Suhakam under the first Suhakam Chairman, Tan Sri Musa Hitam while Abu Talib has nothing whatsoever to show to the Malaysian public.
Suhakam has yet to make public the report of the Harun Hashim Inquiry into the Internal Security Act (ISA) although it was held four months ago, and even more serious, it has held back the inquiry report into the Sarawak Native Customary Rights (NCR) land controversy chaired by Datuk Dr. Salleh Mohd Nor, which was approved in principle by the first Suhakam Board before the expiry of its tenure in April this year. Salleh was not re-appointed as Suhakam Commissioner.
In May this year, I had queried as to whether one reason Salleh was not re-appointed as Suhakam Commissioner although he was one of the three most industrious, conscientious and committed Suhakam Commissioners in the first two-year batch and who were all dropped from re-appointment, was because of the strong objection of the Sarawak State Government to the NCR Inquiry.
In December last year, the then Deputy Chairman of the Suhakam Complaints and Inquiries Working Group, Tan Sri Anuar Zainal Abidin had announced in Kuching that the Suhakam Inquiry Report on the NCR, which dealt with complaints involving the resettlement of nearly 1,000 people to Sungai Asap due to the Bakun dam project; the problems faced by Penans relating to logging companies encroaching into their NCR land resulting in pollution of water supply and loss of food sources and hunting grounds left uncompensated; the problems of the Ibans in Ulu Niah in their conflicts with oil palm companies, etc. would be ready in February this year.
In response to my public query, a Suhakam Commissioner who was on the Salleh Inquiry said the report would be made public in June – but there are no signs of the Salleh Inquiry Report although another six months have passed.
In the eight months that Suhakam was led by Abu Talib, human rights in Malaysia have become even more precarious because of the war against terrorism, whether in the abuse of draconian laws like the ISA, the Police Act, the Printing Presses and Publications, the Sedition Act and the Official Secrets Act.
Suhakam should be in the forefront to protect and entrench human rights to ensure that the battle against terrorism is not waged at the expense of human rights as the root causes of terrorism can only be addressed by strengthening democracy, human rights, social justice and the rule of law.
But in these critical areas to protect and promote human rights, Suhakam failed and stood by in silence in the wake of unprecedented erosion of freedom of the press, right to free speech, assembly, association and information.
The time has come for the civil society to issue an annual report card to assess the successes and failures of Suhakam – starting with the first Annual Report on Suhakam for the year 2002 before December 31.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman