Cabinet on Wednesday should make policy decision whether  it will  respect the independence  and authority of Suhakam to promote and protect human rights or whether it only wants it to be   an  alibi institution to legitimise human rights violations 

Media Statement 
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Monday)The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad showed his utter contempt for non-government organisations (NGOs) and the civil society when he took a swipe at the coalition of 32 NGOs which had suspended all “engagements” with Suhakam for 100 days, telling Suhakam not to bother with the action of the NGOs with the curt dismissal:  “Let them…who cares about these NGOs.”  

It is outrageous that while the Parliamentary Secretary to the Information Ministry, Datuk Zainuddin Maidin, could lament that the World Press Freedom forum organised by the Asian Institute for Development Communications (Aidcom), the Malaysian Press Institute (MPI) and the National Press Club in collaboration with the United Nations and the Canadian International Development Agency (Cida) on Saturday did not discuss “western media imperalism which is threatening press freedom in developing countries”, there is no let-up in the distortions of news and misinformation  by the local media oppressors. 

A good instance is the distortion by  the mainstream media of the reasons for the 100-day “disengagement” with Suhakam by the 32 NGOs, with New Straits Times reporting as being “due to dissatisfaction with the commission”, The Star reporting  as “in protest against what it perceives as the erosion of Suhakam’s independence” while Bernama reporting that it was “to show their regret over the role played by the commission in championing human rights”. 

Completed omitted in the mainstream media reports was the fact that the target  of the NGOs’ anger resulting in their  100-day “disengagement” with Suhakam was more the government than the commission - as  the government had shown  no respect for Suhakam or recognition of the various Suhakam reports and recommendations! 

Reading out the  joint statement of the  NGOs  to announce their 100-day “disengagement” with Suhakam on Saturday, Hakam  president Ramdas Tikamdas had stated very clearly that the  boycott was to protest the  government’s poor response to Suhakam’s numerous recommendations.  

It is most unfortunate, unprofessional  and dishonest that the mainstream media had chosen to  distort the news to gloss over the real target of the NGOs  100-day protest action, which is the government, and to deflect attention  instead to  Suhakam. 

Although Mahathir yesterday publicly showed his contempt for the NGOs, it is his contempt for Suhakam which is the real cause for the crisis of credibility, legitimacy, authority and integrity faced by Suhakam.  

The Mahathir government had ignored all the reports submitted by Suhakam so far, whether the first annual report 2000, the Kesas Highway Inquiry Report or the Report on Freedom of Assembly. 

Suhakam’s statutory powers and functions had been grieviously undermined when  the Foreign Minister, Datuk Syed Hamid Albar, the Minister assigned responsibility for human rights, could  hijack its  powers to submit annual reports to Parliament while the new team  of  Suhakam commissioners seems to be under a “gag order ” constraining from speaking their minds as freely as the first-term Suhakam Commissioners.

The Cabinet on Wednesday should take a policy decision whether  it will  respect the independence  and authority of Suhakam to promote and protect human rights as intended by Parliament in the Suhakam Act  or whether it only wants Suhakam to be   an  alibi institution to legitimise human rights violations.  

If the former, then the government should make public its responses and positions  on the three Suhakam reports released  in the past two years, for the government cannot even pretend to be serious about respecting Suhakam when it has ignored all the Suhakam reports to date. 

Secondly, the Cabinet should apologise for the Foreign Minister’s  hijacking the powers of Suhakam to present its annual report to Parliament, causing Suhakam to contravene the Suhakam Act 1999 in not presenting its annual report 2001 to the last meeting of Parliament.  

Thirdly, the government should give sensitive and responsible  responses to the widespread objections to the lopsided, unrepresentative and dubious appointments to the second Suhakam and the 100-day “disengagement” protest action by the NGOs. 


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman