(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday):
Parliament should send strong message to Suhakam that it
should not take the easy way out to discharge its statutory
responsibilities by going for the “soft” but avoiding the “hard” issues
of human rights
Last Monday, after the fifth series of police harassment, human rights violation, unlawful arrests of DAP leaders and the criminalization of the peaceful, legitimate and constitutional “No to 911, No to 929, Yes to 1957” People’s Awareness Campaign in Pandamaran, Klang on 25th August 2002, I had questioned Suhakam’s ineffectiveness, impotence and irrelevance in the protection and promotion of human rights, the very raison d’etre for its establishment by Parliament.
Immediately after the first police harassment and unlawful criminalization of the peaceful, legitimate and constitutional “No to 929” campaign in Ipoh on June 5, when I was arrested under the Sedition Act but never charged, and the third incident in Bentong on August 4 when the DAP MP for Batu Gajah, Fong Poh Kuan and 12 others were arrested, official reports had been lodged with Suhakam against the police for gross abuses of power and blatant violation of human rights.
For this whole period, there is only public silence from Suhakam as to the outcome of the two official reports which had been lodged against the police violations of human rights and the criminalization of peaceful, legitimate and constitutional “No to 929” activities, while to date, there have been a spate five such unlawful police actions involving 32 arrests.
On Friday, I will appear with five other DAP leaders and officials at the Klang magistrate’s court after our arrests at Pandamaran, Klang under the Sedition Act 1948 in connection with the “No to 929” campaign – but Suhakam has continued to maintain a loud and conspicuous silence in the last 10 days since the fifth series of police arrests on August 25.
Suhakam should not take the easy way out to discharge its statutory
responsibilities to protect and promote human rights by going for the “soft”
and avoiding the “hard” issues of human rights.
In the Sunday Star of Sept. 1, Suhakam Commissioner Prof. Dr. Chiam Heng Keng
spoke about the human rights of children, asserting that children are being
denied their human rights, the
right of expression, when they are not allowed to speak out in class.
She said that many teachers are not even aware that students have human
Chiam is right about the need to conscientise teachers about the
human rights of children, but how can this be successfully achieved
when the police, the judges, the Ministers and even Suhakam Commissioners
have not been conscientised about human rights to the extent that there could be
the repeated blatant denial and deprivation of human rights – as in the spate
of five police human rights violations over the “No to 929” campaign?
It would appear that Suhakam has adopted a conscious policy to avoid the
“hard” issues of human rights, and to focus instead on the “soft” areas,
from the programme of its 2002 Second Human Rights Day Conference on Sept. 9, which is to be opened by the Prime
Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.
The four major themes of the
Suhakam 2002 Human Rights Conference are:
“Human Rights and Caring Society” focussing on issues like “Human Rights Issues in the Workplace”, “Caring for Workers in the Corporate Sector”, “Welfare for Workers in the Workplace”, “Discrimination Against Sex Workers”, “Discrimination Against People Living with Aids” and “Discrimination Against Ex-Prisoners”;
“The Role of Education in Promtoing Human Rights” on issues like “The Role of Teachers and Administrators in Promoting a Caring Society”, “The Role of Parents Teachers’ Association in Promoting a Caring Society”; “The Role of Schools in Promoting a Caring Society”; “Promoting Human Rights Awareness Among Young Children”, “Role of Public Institute of Higher Learning in Promoting Human Rights Awareness” and “Impact of NGOs in Promoting Human Rights Awareness”.
“Human Rights Issues In Society and Education” on issues like “Access to Quality Education for the Disabled”, “Access to Pre-school Education”, “Access to Indigenous Children to Quality Education”, “Uses and Abuses of Internet” and “Ethics of Reporting”
“Children’s Rights to Education” on issues like “Equal Opportunity to Education”, “Children’s Rights to Claim Their Rights to Education”, “Human Rights Education in Schools”, “Promoting Human Rights through Language in Schools” and “Promoting Human Rights through History in Schools”.
The crown jewel of the 2002 Suhakam Human Rights Conference is a plenary
panel on “Is an Exam-Oriented System A Violation of Children’s Rights To
Education”. A leading human
rights advocate in the country was approached to be a panelist but he declined.
The issues laid out for the 2002 Suhakam Human Rights Conference are pertinent and important for the development of human rights in Malaysia, but when the crucial, critical and “hard” human rights issues such as the fundamental liberties of freedom of the person, speech, expression, press, assembly, association, development, information, etc. are completely ignored or avoided, Suhakam must answer whether this reflects a deliberate policy avoidance of the hard and difficult issues of human rights.
Parliament, when it reconvenes on Monday, should ponder long and hard as to whether Suhakam should be allowed to narrow its mandate to protect and promote human rights to the “soft” areas and avoid the “hard” issues of human rights such as police violations of human rights, Internal Security Act detentions, increasingly stultifying control and censorship of the press, draconian laws to protect corruption and abuses of power as highlighted by Keadilan Youth chief Mohd Ezam Mohd Noor’s conviction under the Official Secrets Act, government refusal to ratify the international convention against torture, etc.
Parliament should debate whether the annual allocation of RM5 million of taxpayers’ money for Suhakam, with Suhakam Commissioners given bigger allowances and perks than Members of Parliament, is just for Suhakam to deal with the “soft” areas of human rights and avoid the “hard” issues, and if not, a clear message should be sent to Suhakam to address the hard and central issues of human rights violations in Malaysia.