(Kuala Lumpur, Sunday): There are many serious failures in the first two-year term
of Suhakam, but I will list its two
greatest failures in the areas of
press freedom and a just rule of
In my meeting with Abu Talib, I expressed my concern that
Suhakam is organizing a workshop on press freedom in Malaysia when it should be
holding inquiries into the various complaints of infringements of press freedom
and violations of free speech.
There had been umpteenth workshops on press freedom in the country in recent years, whether organised by journalist groups or the Bar Council, without any appreciable improvement in press freedom. Even Suhakam last September had a seminar on the role of the media in promoting human rights.
However, Suhakam’s function to organize workshops, which is provided under Section 4(2)(a) of the Suhakam Act to “promote awareness of human rights” cannot be allowed to overshadow or supersede its more important function and power to “inquire into complaints regarding infringements of human rights” as stated in Section (4)(1)(d) of the Act.
Instead of a workshop on press freedom, Suhakam should be holding inquiries into the various specific complaints of violations of press freedom which it had received in the past two years.
Suhakam should have initiated on its own volition a full
inquiry into the massive assaults on press freedom in the first two years of its
tenure, taking into consideration the damning report of the United Nations
Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression issued in 1999
stating that freedom of opinion was curtailed systematically in Malaysia.
The Special Rapporteur stated that the Internal Security
Act, the Sedition Act, and the Printing Presses and Publications Act were used
to suppress or repress expression and curb peaceful assembly.
Can Suhakam explain for instance its failure to specifically inquire into the further concentration of political party media ownership with MCA acquisition of two national Chinese newspapers, Nanyang Siang Pau and China Press, in May last year which led to further erosion of a free, independent and responsible press in Malaysia, although reports were lodged against the MCA takeover with Suhakam?.
Nanyang Siang Pau one year before and after the MCA takeover has become a very different newspaper, not only to the DAP but as far as space for legitimate dissent in Malaysia is concerned.
A Just Rule of Law
Suhakam had omitted from its ambit of “human rights”
the important human right to the just rule of law and an truly independent
The important right to justice as a precondition to protect
and promote human rights has been repeatedly declared and upheld in
international human rights instruments, whether the Charter of the United
Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the International
Covenants on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and on Civil and Political
Suhakam had not only failed to elevate the right to justice
as a fundamental human right, it
also failed to start human rights education programme to sensitise Malaysian
judges on human rights.
One of the recommendations of the joint report of the International Bar Association, the ICJ Center for Independence of Judges and Lawyers, the Commonwealth Lawyers’ Association and the Union Internatonale Des Avocates entitled “Justice In Jeopardy: Malaysia 2000” called for the holding of training sessions on human rights law for judges but this has yet to be adopted.
Malaysia lags behind many countries in giving attention and priority to human rights education in general and to the judiciary in particular.
In 1994, the United Nations General Assembly, convinced of the importance of human rights education as a comprehensive, life-long process, officially proclaimed 1995-2004 the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education.
This commitment has since given rise to concrete
international, regional, national and local activities in keeping with the
objectives laid down in the Plan of Action for the Decade.
In line with the UN Human Rights Education Decade, the
United Nations convened an expert meeting to draft a Human Rights Manual
for Judges and Lawyers in Geneva in May 1997.
The Manual is intended to constitute a comprehensive
curriculum for the training of judges and lawyers on international human rights
standards, to be adapted case by case to the particular national needs and legal
At the half-way point into the Decade in May 2000, the
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in cooperation with
UNESCO, conducted a mid-term global evaluation to take stock of human
rights education programmes, materials and resources that were available
around the world.
All governments were invited to give a progress report of
the current state of human rights education, but the United Nations drew a blank
as far as Malaysia, which was one of the countries which did not submit any
mid-term progress report on the Human Rights Education Decade as nothing had
been done and there was nothing to report.
As far as Malaysia was concerned, the United Nations Decade
for Human Rights Education never existed – which Suhakam had done nothing to
remedy, although one of its statutory duties is “to provide education in
relation to human rights”.