Suhakam should conduct a fully public and transparent national review of the 42-year history of ISA, particularly into its  “abuses of fundamental freedoms and undermining political  dissent” because of the absence of “judicial safeguards and checks and balances”

- opening of the BEBASKAN Roadshow Exhibition of the Abolish ISA Movement (AIM) organized by the DAP at the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall, Kuala Lumpur

by Lim Kit Siang

(Kuala Lumpur,  Sunday)On 24th May 2002, the second-term Suhakam issued a statement on the Internal Security Act (ISA),  which was clearly a departure from its first statement on the ISA a year ago on 11th April 2001 on the arrests of  the reformasi activists under the ISA. 

In the statement of April last year, Suhakam made the categorical and unequivocal stand  that “Detention without trial constitutes a fundamental human rights violation” and called on the authorities to release the detainees immediately, and if they have committed any offence, they should be charged and tried in an open court. 

The September 11 attacks in the United States have weakened the Suhakam stand on the ISA, as reflected by its statement last month, where it made the major concession that while maintaining its position that detention without trial constitutes a human rights violation, it “also recognizes the duty of the state to maintain national security and to protect the people from violent criminal acts.”. It hoped to see “in the long term….the repeal of the ISA” – which is so open-ended that it could be the next half or a full century! 

Suhakam said: “Given the heightened national and international security concerns over religious militancy and terrorism, especially in the aftermath of September 11, SUHAKAM recognizes that threats to national security may, at critical times, require critical measures.”

Suhakam should declare whether it still adheres to its statement  of April 11, 2001 that the six ISA  reformasi activists currently under ISA detention, namely Mohamad Ezam Mohamad Nor, Hishamuddin Rais, Chua Tian Chang, Saari Sungib, Badrulamin Bahron and Lokman Noor Adam should have been released more than a year ago   or charged and tried in  an open court – and that this position remains unaffected by the September 11 attacks and the new Suhakam  modified stand on the ISA in  post-September 11 as the detention of the six were pre-September 11.  

If so, Suhakam should give a satisfactory accounting as to what  it had done in the past 13 months to actively persuade the authorities concerned to release the reformasi six from ISA incarceration.                

A chronology of the efforts which had been made by Suhakam for the past year  to secure the release of the reformasi six in line with its policy statement of 11th April 2001 should be a prominent feature of the Suhakam annual report 2001, which had been hijacked by the Foreign Ministry but which should be presented to Parliament next week. 

Suhakam announced last month that it has decided, after considering the memorandum submitted by ”Gerakan Mansuhkan ISA” and the Opposition on the detention of the reformasi six  to institute an inquiry. 

Suhakam  should explain whether the inquiry it has decided to hold on the reformasi six would be the most comprehensive  in scope concerning  the violation of their human rights, and not be narrowed and restricted merely to investigate their visitation rights and detention conditions, including medical treatment – which will be  a travesty of the Suhakam  statutory mandate to "protect and promote human rights".

Although Suhakam is barred by the Suhakam Act from inquiring into any matter which is the subject matter of any legal proceedings, the pending habeas corpus appeal of the reformasi six on the legality of their ISA detentions should not preclude Suhakam from inquiring into the human rights aspects of  their ISA detentions - and the Suhakam inquiry into the Kesas Highway Incident is a good precedent.

In the statement last month, Suhakam said that for “the State to justify preventive detention on national security grounds, judicial safeguards and checks and balances must be in place to prevent any abuse of fundamental freedoms and undermining political dissent”.  

It said: “Preventive detention legislation is always fraught with the danger of excesses and injustice. It is imperative therefore for the detaining authorities to act fairly and not in any way give rise to any semblance of the abuse of preventive laws. 

“The purpose of national security measures must be to protect human rights and democracy, not to undermine these fundamental values of Malaysian society. The nature and manner of implementation of such measures must be within the framework of the protection of human rights.”  

I call on  Suhakam to conduct a full  review of the ISA “to ensure that both national security and human rights can be promoted and protected” in a public and transparent manner,  including the  42-year history  of the ISA, particularly of the “abuses of fundamental freedoms and undermining political dissent” through the ISA because of the absence of “judicial safeguards and checks and balances”  so that it becomes not merely a Suhakam but also a national  exercise. 

If Suhakam conducts such a wide-ranging review into the 42-year history of ISA – something akin to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Desmond Tutu in South Africa into the dark days of human rights abuses in the years of apartheid - I am prepared to fully co-operate by giving testimony of the “abuses of fundamental freedoms and undermining political dissent” in my two personal episodes of ISA detentions.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman