Abdullah should arrange for Cabinet Ministers to undergo human rights education so that they would respect and support rather than obstruct Suhakam in the discharge of its statutory responsibility to protect and promote human rights
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Saturday): Acting Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi should arrange for Cabinet Ministers to undergo human rights education so that they would have greater human rights awareness to respect and support rather than obstruct Suhakam in the discharge of its statutory responsibility to protect and promote human rights.
Suhakam has a working group on education as the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 requires Suhakam “to promote awareness of and provide education in relation to human rights”, and one of its target groups in the past three years have been the police, with various dialogues and workshops with police officers, including a human rights training module for the police.
Events have proved however one significant Suhakam omission in its human rights education programme – the Cabinet Ministers, who recently made the shocking decision to hamper the statutory responsibility of Suhakam with the decision that the human rights commission should forward all its requests for information relating to human rights from government agencies to the Foreign Ministry.
Cabinet Ministers who understand and appreciate the overarching importance of human rights would never have entertained let alone support any notion to tie the hands of Suhakam with such bureaucratic red tape.
The new Cabinet decision was revealed two days ago when the follow-up dialogue between government officials and residents opposed to the controversial mega-incinerator project in Broga, Selangor arranged by Suhakam at its Kuala Lumpur headquarters was aborted, and the Local Government and Housing Ministry officials used the Cabinet directive to justify their non-appearance.
Cabinet Ministers should explain why they are obstructing the work of Suhakam when they should be co-operating and facilitating its protection and promotion of human rights in the country, such as setting up a Human Rights Division in every Ministry and important agency to directly and expeditiously address requests and communications from Suhakam.
Nobody believes that the Foreign Ministry is qualified or equipped to be the one-stop government agency to facilitate and expedite action on Suhakam requests for information relating to human rights complaints from Ministries and government agencies, unless the real objective is to set up the Foreign Minister, Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar as the unlawful and unconstitutional Human Rights Commissar or Censor, whose task is to pigeon-hole, KIV or blackball Suhakam requests for information on human rights from the various government agencies and generally to obstruct and hamper it from carrying out its statutory duty to protect and promote human rights in Malaysia.
The Cabinet should immediately revoke such a directive to hamper and obstruct the work of Suhakam, or Suhakam should prepare a human rights training module for Cabinet Ministers and top Barisan Nasional leaders.
Malaysians are entitled to know which Cabinet Minister was responsible for initiating the proposal to hamper and obstruct Suhakam’s operations - whether the Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng or the Housing and Local Government Minister, Datuk Ong Ka Ting.
The surprise appearance of a Suhakam delegation at the Health Ministry’s daily briefing on Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) on Monday might have incensed Chua, but after the new Cabinet decision, Suhakam would not be able to send any delegation to attend the Health Ministry’s daily Sars briefing without first getting the “green light” from the Foreign Ministry!
Chua had been quite hostile to Suhakam when it tried to investigate DAP complaints about serious human rights violations, in particular the right to life and the right to information, resulting from the Health Ministry’s mishandling of epidemics, firstly on the report on 27th January concerning the worst dengue epidemic in the country’s history and secondly, on April 8 on the Health Ministry’s cover-up of the SARS outbreak .
On 22nd February, Suhakam had strongly criticized the Health Ministry for a last-minute cancellation of a meeting with the commission on the dengue epidemic on the ground of not wanting adverse publicity with the imminent Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Kuala Lumpur, which has come and gone, but still without any accountability of the Health Ministry to Suhakam.
Chua should explain whether he is chiefly responsible for the Cabinet decision to tie the hands of Suhakam so that there would be no more surprise appearance of the Suhakam delegation at the Health Ministry’s Sars daily briefing as on Monday or was the new Cabinet directive at the instance of his colleague, Local Government and Housing Minister Datuk Ong Ka Ting because of the Broga incinerator issue.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman