(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) has protested against charges of inefficiency and ineffectiveness although it has admitted that it has been able to resolve less than one-third of the complaints of human rights violations which had been lodged with it.
There is clearly an urgent need for Suhakam to be more productive in dealing and resolving human rights complaints, which calls for a drastic overhaul of its leadership and administrative capabilities, so that it could meaningfully discharge its two statutory duties to “protect and promote” human rights.
In the past three years, Suhakam has not made any distinctive mark in the first tranche of its statutory duty to “protect” human rights, as testified by the long list of unresolved “high profile” complaints about human rights violations.
Suhakam’s most impressive performance was its inquiry into the police abuses of power and human rights violations in the Kesas Highway Incident in November 2000, but unfortunately, its finding and recommendations had been completely ignored by the authorities, in particular the police, as well as Parliament.
The Human Rights Commission Act 1999, under which Suhakam was established, never intended Suhakam to be a passive body, acting only when there are official complaints about human rights violations as there are provisions for Suhakam to play a pro-active role in coming forward in the defence of human rights whenever they come under threat.
This is why, for instance, the Human Rights Commission Act 1999 specifically empowered Suhakam under Section 4(2)(e) “to issue public statements on human rights as and when necessary”, so that it could deal immediately with any development which poses a threat to human rights.
In this connection, Suhakam should state its stand as to whether the threat by the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to charge “those who continue harping on the government’s decision to use English to teach science and mathematics in schools” with sedition violates human rights and undermines the rule of law.
Suhakam should not wait for an official report before acting on this grave and intolerable threat to human rights and the rule of law and should carry out its statutory duty under Section 4(2)(e) to issue a public statement on the matter.
Abdullah’s warning is not only a grave human rights violation, it seriously undermines the impartiality, professionalism and non-political interference of the office of the Attorney-General, with far-reaching consequences on public confidence in the fair administration of justice and the just rule of law.
Under the Malaysian Constitution, the Attorney-General enjoys the sole discretion to decide on criminal prosecutions which can brook no interference from any quarter, whether by way of directive or any form of instruction, from even the Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister.
Abdullah’s warning that those who continue to disagree with the government’s decision to use English to teach Science and Mathematics, particularly from Std. One in primary schools, will be charged with sedition raises two questions:
Firstly, whether a policy decision has been taken whereby the Attorney-General will automatically charge all those “who continue harping on the government’s decision to use English to teach science and mathematics in schools”, including those who genuinely believe that the Barisan Nasional Supreme Council’s “2:4:3” formula for Std. One in Chinese primary schools is educationally unsound and fails to fulfil the “123 Test” of firstly, enhancing English proficiency; secondly maintaining high standards in mathematics and science; and thirdly, preserving the character of mother-tongue education and that the “2:4:3” proposal should be modified as by devoting all the nine new periods to the teaching of English; and
Secondly, whether the Attorney-General’s Chambers have reached a policy decision that any disagreement with the government’s decision to use English to teach Science and Mathematics, particularly from Std. One in national, Chinese and Tamil primary schools, is ipso facto an offence of sedition?
The Suhakam Chairman, Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman, was formerly Attorney-General for over a decade and he should know better than anyone that both these implications subvert the rule of law and public confidence in the fair and just administration of justice – an important and inseparable plank in the protection of human rights.
This is all the more reason why Suhakam cannot remain silent on the dangerous warning by Abdullah threatening to use the Sedition Act to shut up legitimate criticism and dissent with the government’s decision to use English to teach mathematics and science in Std. One, particularly in the Chinese primary schools with the unheard-of precedent of using two languages to teach one subject.
Suhakam’s preparedness to take a public stand to defend human rights, even if there is no official complaint on Abdullah’s warning, is an acid test whether Suhakam can diligently and dutifully discharge its statutory duty to “protect and promote” human rights.
*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman