Suhakam under Abu Talib has compromised and repudiated  its original stand that the detention-without trial ISA constitutes a fundamental human rights violation

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Saturday)Suhakam under its new Chairman Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman has compromised and repudiated its original stand of April 11, 2001 that the detention-without-trial Internal Security Act (ISA)  constitutes “a fundamental human rights violation” with the qualification that it is permissible on the nebulous ground of “national security”.  

The Suhakam statement yesterday, like the Suhakam statement of 11th April 2001, were both issued by the Suhakam secretary Kamaruddin Mohamed Baria, but they demonstrated the vast distance and deviation which Suhakam had traversed in the past 13 months  on the issue of ISA.  

In the April 2001 statement, Suhakam made no qualification whatsoever to its stand that detention without trial “constitutes a fundamental human rights violation” and it categorically called on the government to immediately release the reformasi activists detained under the ISA or they should be charged and tried in open court if they had committed any offences.  

In the statement yesterday, Suhakam conceded recognition that “threats to national security” may require “critical measures” including detention without trial and   postponed its call for repeal of the ISA to the indefinite “long term”, although it referred to the need for “judicial safeguards and checks and balances to prevent abuse of fundamental freedoms and  undermine legitimate dissent”. 

Malaysians are entitled to know whether the Suhakam’s compromise and repudiation of its original stand on ISA is merely the view of the new Chairman or whether the full board of Suhakam Commissioners had properly and legally reviewed and revised the earlier Suhakam stand.

Section 7 (4) of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act  1999 provides that members of the Commission “shall use their best endeavours to arrive at all decisions of the meeting by consensus failing which the decision by a two-thirds majority of the members present shall be required”. 

Was there a consensus in the second-term Suhakam to compromise and repudiate the Suhakam decision of April 11, 2001 on the ISA or was there a two-thirds majority to support such a virtual rescinding of the original Suhakam stand? 

The Suhakam statement yesterday that  “judicial safeguards and checks and balances must be in place to prevent abuse of fundamental freedoms and undermine legitimate dissent” is empty and hollow when it is remembered that it was under the time of Abu Talib as Attorney-General when judicial review of Ministerial abuses of power under the ISA was removed in an amendment in 1989.  

Commissioners who had changed their position on the ISA in the 13 months since  April last year should come forward to justify their change of stand on the ISA.  

There is another matter which calls for instant clarification from Suhakam.  Suhakam had taken the clear and strong stand in April last year  that the reformasi six, Mohamad Ezam Mohamad Nor, Hishamuddin Rais, Chua Tian Chang, Saari Sungib, Badrulamin Bahron and Lokman Noor Adam,   should be released immediately under the ISA or tried in open court if they had committed any offences. 

Has the  second-term Suhakam altered its stand on this issue, and if not, what is it doing to get the government to release the reformasi six after more than a year of detention without trial?  

It is most deplorable that Suhakam has dishonoured its undertaking to conduct an inquiry into the ISA detention of the reformasi six by by narrowing  and restricting it to the visitation rights of their family and lawyers and their detention conditions. 

The Suhakam undertaking in its statement of 17th April 2002 to conduct an inquiry into their  ISA detention was one of the four reasons given by the reformasi six  to end their 11-day anniversary hunger strike protest against their ISA detention.'  

The Suhakam statement of 17th April 2002  had committed Suhakam to  an  inquiry into the detention of the reformasi six under the ISA based on the memorandum it had received calling for their immediate release, apart from drawing attention to their detention conditions.  

To narrow and restrict the Suhakam inquiry merely to investigate their visitation rights and detention conditions, including medical treatment, is a travesty of its statutory mandate to "protect and promote human rights".

Suhakam should not confine itself to the narrow ambit of looking into the visitation rights and detention conditions of the six  ISA detainees  and should instead inquire into  the larger issue of their ISA detention.

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.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman