(Kuala Lumpur, Thursday): In my 45-minute meeting with the Suhakam
Chairman, Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman, we discussed wide-ranging issues about
Suhakam and human rights in Malaysia.
A primary focus of our discussion was the
Internal Security Act (ISA). I expressed concern that Suhakam had altered its
original stand on the ISA issued on 11th April 2001 as a fundamental
human rights violation and calling for the immediate release of the reformasi
activists, or that they should be charged and tried publicly for any offences
against the law.
However, on 24th May 2002, the
second-term Suhakam 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”, expressing the hope for the
repeal of the ISA “in the long
I told Abu Talib that Suhakam’s “in the long
term” was so open-ended that it could be ad infinitum.
Suhakam to stick to the April 2001 decision to call for the immediate repeal of
ISA as it had been massively abused against legitimate political dissent and to
propose an anti-terrorism law instead to deal specifically with terrorism.
past four decades, the massive abuse of the ISA had damaged the civil and
political rights of the people of Malaysia, and it had long outlived its
original purpose to deal with the
communist armed uprising when it was enacted in 1960.
conceded that after September 11 attacks in the United States, terrorism had
become both an international and national problem which must be addressed
all elements of the civil society must be involved in the fight against
terrorism. It is not a fight to be conducted by the police and army alone.
Instead, it must be fought at the political level, at the economic and social
level, and at the level of ideas. But
above all, it must be fought in a manner that respects human rights.
I suggested that
Suhakam convene a conference on “Human Rights and Terrorism” to
propose a law on anti-terrorism which would address the problem of terrorism
while at the same time ensure that it would not be exploited or abused by the
government to launch crackdowns on their political opponents or stifle
On the Suhakam inquiry into the six
ISA reformasi activists, Mohamad Ezam Mohamad Nor, Hishamuddin Rais, Chua
Tian Chang, Saari Sungib, Badrulamin Bahron and Lokman Noor Adam next week, I
expressed the general disappointment of the civil society at the narrowing of
the scope of the probe into their conditions at the Kamunting Detention Camp
when the inquiry should deal with the central issue of the human rights
violations of their ISA detention.
I also suggested that Suhakam conduct a full
review into the 42-year
history of the ISA, particularly the rampant abuses of fundamental
freedoms and undermining of political dissent through the abuse of
ISA, in line with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission established
in South Africa to probe into
the dark days of rampant human rights abuses in the years of apartheid.