Press freedom and  a just  rule of law are the two most serious  failures of the first two-year Suhakam

Speech 2
- DAP Round Table Conference on Suhakam Report 2001 – “Human Rights or Wrongs” 
by Lim Kit Siang

(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 law.

Press Freedom

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 judiciary. 

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 Rights. 

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 systems. 

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”. 


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman