Suhakam has failed its statutory charter to protect and promote human rights when it becomes a government apologist for human rights violations as trying to justify Abdullah’s threat to use the Sedition Act against “those who continue harping on the government’s decision to use English to teach science and mathematics in school”
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Saturday): Suhakam has failed its statutory charter to protect and promote human rights when it becomes a government apologist for human rights violations as trying to justify the threat of the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to use the Sedition Act against “those who continue harping on the government’s decision to use English to teach science and mathematics in school”.
In a reply to the Acting DAPSY National Secretary, Loke Siew Fook, Suhakam Secretary Kamaruddin Mohamed Baria said in a letter dated 14th November 2002:
This Suhakam letter is most shocking as it is clear that the Suhakam Commissioners, who met on Monday and discussed among other things, the DAPSY protest memorandum, have totally misconceived and misconstrued their functions, role and responsibility as Human Rights Commissioners.
In the first place, Suhakam is not a Supernumerary Legal Aid Bureau to advise Malaysians as to whether their legal rights have been infringed, but a Human Rights Commission to protect and promote human rights of Malaysians.
Suhakam has not been established to assist the Attorney-General’s Chambers to pontificate that “whether criticism of government policies may or may not constitute an offence under the Sedition Act…primarily depends on the exact words spoken and the context and circumstances in which the words were uttered”, but to protect the human rights of Malaysians from abuses of power, as in the threat to use the Sedition Act to stifle fair and legitimate criticisms of government policies, including the use of English to teach science and mathematics.
The excuse that “it is not clear in what context or under what circumstances the statement by the DPM was made” is very lame and weak, as Suhakam is not a court of law but a Human Rights Commission and the New Straits Times front-page report of 4.11.2002 with the heading “DPM: Those harping on English issue may face sedition charges” is sufficient material for Suhakam to decide whether it constituted grave violation of the human rights of Malaysians without having to conduct an interview with the DPM as to what he actually meant.
The NST report quoted Abdullah warning that the Government would use the Sedition Act against any individual or group, if it had to, because the matter had already been settled, and that there is no reason for anyone to pursue the matter further especially as the Barisan Nasional has resolved the issue with all the parties concerned, including the Chinese-based component parties.
This in effect renders any criticism or opposition per se of the “2:4:3” proposal in the usage of English to teach mathematics and science in Std. One in Chinese primary schools as sedition, which clear is not the law and a flagrant human rights violation meant to stifle freedom of speech, expression, information and the press. The events of the past fortnight are proof that Abdullah’s warning has such an intended effect from the virtual media blackout on fair and legitimate criticisms on the issue.
It is this human rights aspect which should concern Suhakam and not whether the Sedition Act is properly on the statute books and how it is to be interpreted and enforced.
It should be a matter of grave concern to all Malaysians that the present Suhakam is adopting a very narrow, restrictive and literalist interpretation of its functions to protect and promote human rights as compared to the first Suhakam under Tan Sri Musa Hitam.
In April 2001, the first Suhakam issued a statement calling for the release of the reformasi activists when they were detained under the Internal Security Act as “Detention without trial constitutes a fundamental human rights violation”.
Such an approach seems to be completely alien to the second Suhakam, with its approach that the laws transcend and can subvert human rights.
Suhakam should undertake a fundamental review of its approach to its statutory duty to protect and promote human rights and abandon its narrow, restrictive and literalist interpretation of its powers and functions so as not render the whole existence of Suhakam meaningless and even irrelevant to human rights protection and promotion.
In the process, Suhakam should reconsider the DAPSY protest memorandum and to speak out loud and clear that criticism or opposition per se of any government policy like the “2:4:3 formula” for the teaching of English for mathematics and science in Std. One in Chinese primary schools cannot be sedition and that threats to use the Sedition Act to stifle such legitimate criticism or opposition is an unacceptable violation of human rights.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman