Suhakam should emulate Nelson Mandela’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa to conduct an independent inquiry into the causes of the May 13, 1969 riots, focusing on the three days of May 11, 12 and 13, 1969, to exorcise the spectre of May 13 and end its exploitation at every general election to stifle human rights
- with Suhakam (protesting at Suhakam Deputy Chairman’s falsely linking public rallies with May 13, 1969 riots and proposing Suhakam emulate Nelson Mandela’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa to conduct independent inquiry to find out the causes of the May 13, 1969 riots, focusing on the three days of May 11, 12 and 13, 1969)
by Lim Kit Siang
(Kuala Lumpur, Wednesday): This report to Suhakam has three objectives:
1. Harun Hashim’s linking of public rallies with May 13, 1969 riots
Utusan Malaysia (20.9.03) under the heading “Utamakan aspek keselamatan sebelum benarkan rapat umum” carried the following report on the comments of Tan Sri Harun on the controversy swirling round the announcement by the Chairman of the Election Commission, Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman, on the lifting of the 25-year ban on public rallies in the next general election:
PULAU PINANG 19 Sept. - Suruhanjaya Hak Asasi Manusia Malaysia (Suhakam) mahu aspek keselamatan diberi pertimbangan dahulu sebelum membenarkan sebarang rapat umum pada pilihan raya umum ke-11 bagi mengelakkan peristiwa berdarah rusuhan kaum pada 1969 berulang.
Timbalan Pengerusinya, Tan Sri Harun Mahmud Hashim berkata, realitinya semua pihak termasuk parti politik berhak untuk mengadakan rapat umum kerana ia adalah `suatu cara dan bentuk kempen pilihan raya'.
Namun, tegasnya, rapat umum perlu mengikut lunas undang-undang dengan memperoleh permit polis yang bertanggungjawab penuh dalam aspek keselamatannya.
``Sebenarnya sudah berlaku pun pada 1969 (apabila rapat umum dibenarkan), itulah sampai berbunuh-bunuhan. Kita tidak mahu mengulangi sejarah tahun 1969.
``Untuk membuat rapat umum, kawalan keselamatan terletak dalam kuasa polis. Kalau perhimpunan disertai lebih daripada tiga orang, permit polis diperlukan. Soal keselamatan perlu diberi perhatian,'' katanya ketika dihubungi hari ini.
Since Rashid’s controversial announcement, political leaders and commentators have been divided into two camps, those who support and those who oppose the lifting of the 25-year ban on public rallies in the next general election.
Those who oppose the lifting of the 25-year ban on public rallies do not do so openly by declaring their opposition to public rallies, but hide it under the guise of their concern about security and the spurious argument that public rallies were banned because they were the cause of the May 13 riots, with many political leaders and commentators falsely claiming that public rallies were banned since the May 13 riots in 1969, i.e. for 34 years (despite DAP pointing out this error several times in the past week - but such a canard is still perpetrated by The Star “comment” column today).
This is a false, fallacious and fraudulent position for concern about security does not mark the difference between those who support and those who oppose the lifting of the 25-year ban on rallies, as all those who support the lifting of the ban agree and want security at open-air public rallies, which must be the concern not only of the police but also the organisers of the rallies.
Every responsible person and political party who supports the lifting of the 25-year ban wants public rallies to be trouble-free, as no one wants any public rally to degenerate into disturbances and chaos. This was testified by the smooth conduct of open-air public rallies in the 19 years when they were allowed in the country, involving four general elections – and I can personally vouch for it as I had personally been involved in 11 years of political activities when public rallies were legally allowed, covering two general elections.
It is a grave disservice to democracy and human rights when the history of May 13, 1969 riots is distorted and the security issue falsely presented as the dividing line between those who support and those who oppose the lifting of the 25-year ban on public rallies, giving courage and fodder to political leaders hostile to human rights to oppose greater democratization and respect for human rights under the “security first” pretext, as on the issue of public rallies – the latest examples being the Wanita UMNO leader, Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz, the MCA President, Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting and the MCA Deputy Home Minister, Datuk Chor Chee Heung.
There are two other reasons why it is shocking and unacceptable for the Suhakam Deputy Chairman to take such a stand:
Firstly, The double standards of the powers-that-be in allowing public rallies by ruling parties to be held while this is denied to the Opposition – as illustrated by the Barisan Nasional 50th “Power-Sharing” anniversary celebrations at Stadium Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur last Saturday; and
Secondly, in going against Suhakam’s August 2001 Report on Freedom of Assembly, supporting the holding of public rallies where it declared that “freedom of assembly is the right of every individual in a democratic country as it is one of the means of public participation in the democratic process” and that “peaceful assemblies are possible in present-day Malaysia”. It also recommended measures so that “Malaysians can progress towards establishing a democratic tradition of peaceful assembly” (which includes public rallies), e.g.organizers of assemblies are responsible in ensuring the good behaviour of the participants, marshals are to be appointed to control the crowd, etc.
In conclusion, the Suhakam Report said:
“SUHAKAM acknowledges that peace and stability are paramount and public order needs to be maintained at all times. SUHAKAM is also of the view that peaceful assemblies do not disrupt peace and stability and need not cause any public disorder if all persons involved, the public and the authorities alike, conduct themselves with propriety. SUHAKAM believes that the recommendations made will ensure that freedom of assembly and the greater right of freedom of expression can be enjoyed in a peaceful environment.”
Linking May 13, 1969 riots to public rallies runs counter to the whole sweep of the Suhakam Report on Freedom of Assembly, utterly subversive of the SUHAKAM statutory objectives to protect and promote human rights.
It is patently false and mischievous for two reasons:
There had been no independent inquiry into the causes of the May 13 riots in 1969 and although controversy rages as to the actual causes, one thing is beyond dispute - that the May 13 riots had nothing to do with public rallies in the 1969 general election, for the following reasons:
If public rallies were the cause or one of the causes of the May 13 riots in 1969, they would not have been allowed immediately when the 21-month suspension of Parliament and all political activities during the National Operations Council (NOC) rule were lifted in February 1971 – with public rallies allowed for the next seven years, including during the 1974 general election.
When public rallies were “temporarily banned” in June 1978 by the police, it was not because they posed security threat to the country, but because of the impending 30th anniversary of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) armed struggle, with the police expecting intensification of urban guerrilla attacks following a spate of assassination of former Special Branch Chinese officers, preceded by the assassination of the Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Abdul Rahman Hashim in Kuala Lumpur.
In early June 1978, the then Inspector-General of Police , Tan Sri Hanif Omar publicly called on the police “to maintain maximum vigilance from now until Merdeka Day on August 31” because of the possibility of violent incidents on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the armed struggle of the Communist Party of Malaya on June 20.
But in the three months from June to August 1978, the 30th MCP armed struggle anniversary came and went without any incident. In fact, the government and the police were so confident about the security situation that the 1978 general election was held to coincide directly with the 30th anniversary of the MCP armed struggle on 20th June – Parliament was dissolved on 12th June, Nomination Day held on 21st June and Polling on 8th July 1978.
But the “temporary” three-month ban on public rallies went on for 25 years, even after the peace accords reached by the MCP and the government in Haadyai in December 1989 and now, with the biography of Chin Peng, the MCP Secretary-General entitled “My Side of History”, quite a best-seller in the bookshops!
Suhakam should end its wishy-washy stand on the lifting of the 25-year ban on public rallies , reaffirm its August 2001 Report on Freedom of Assembly and come out clearly and unequivocally to advocate an immediate end to the undemocratic 25-year ban on public rallies, so that public rallies could be held now – like the Barisan Nasional 50th “power sharing” public rally at Merdeka Statdium last Saturday - and not just for the next general election.
2. Emulate Nelson Mandela’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa to conduct independent inquiry into the causes of the May 13 1969 riots, focusing in particular on the three days of May 11, 12 and 13, 1969 to exorcise the spectre of May 13 and end its exploitation at every general election to stifle human rights
Suhakam should emulate Nelson Mandela’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa to conduct an independent inquiry to find out the causes of the May 13 riots, 1969 by focusing on the three days of May 11, 12 and 13, 1969 to exorcise the spectre of May 13 and end its exploitation at every general election to stifle human rights.
It is not only Harun who had falsely linked May 13, 1969 riots to public rallies, as this had also been committed by the major mainstream media, whether the New Straits Times, the Star, Berita Harian or Utusan Malaysia, which had carried editorials or commentaries in this vein.
In the past three decades, Barisan Nasional leaders would threaten voters at every general election that there would be May 13 and racial riots if the Barisan Nasional was not returned with a strong two-thirds majority.
After 34 years, it is time to exorcise the spectre of the May 13 to ensure it does not continue to be abused to stifle the fundamental human rights of Malaysians to vote freely without coercion or fear. This should be a top human right objective and challenge to Suhakam.
Suhakam should provide guidance as to how the spectre of the May 13 could be exorcised. There are two proposals it could consider:
3. Suhakam Plan of Action for Human Rights in the 11th General Election
Suhakam cannot be a bystander in the next general election as it has an important role to play to discharge its statutory responsibility to protect and promote human rights in the 11th general election in the country.
While the constitutional mandate to conduct “free, fair and clean” election rests with the Election Commission, the responsibility to ensure that human rights are protected and promoted in the eleventh general election to be held in the next three to nine months between December and June next year remains squarely with Suhakam – freedom of speech, expression, assembly, media freedom, the liberty of the person, a truly independent judiciary, the just rule of law, an independent and professional Election Commission and a free and meaningful vote in the general election.
Suhakam should set up a task force and conduct consultations with all political parties, NGOs and concerned Malaysians to formulate a Suhakam Plan of Action to protect and promote human rights in the 11th general election. The Suhakam Plan of Action for Human Rights in the 11th General Election should be publicly announced so that the public can monitor its progress.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman