The ‘debate’ on Human Rights

The infringement on human rights in Malaysia and at times its total and complete denial is justified by the BN MPs due to the uniqueness of Malaysian society. Its plurality, its diversity, its sensitivities.

By Khalid Samad, Suara Keadilan

Malaysia has many things which are unique. Its multiracial, multireligious and multilingual nature. Its flora and fauna. Its food. Its Parliament. The rest we can be proud of. Not the Parliament.

I dare say that it is the only Parliament in the world which when “debating” a Bill concerning human rights, the ruling party justifies and defends actions which are completely contrary to the spirit and understanding of human rights!

I would even venture to say that the BN MPs do not have the slightest inkling of what human rights are all about in the first place.

Let’s take it from the beginning though shall we. A Bill calling for the amendment of the original Suhakam Bill was tabled on March 24 morning and called for debate on March 25 morning. Hardly 24 hours’ notice. Almost an hour was used up by the PR MPs arguing against the way the Bill was being pushed through.

Not enough notice, not enough time to prepare, no time to do research and the such. The minister of course was unimpressed, replying it was only five (5) pages. In the process of the debate, Lim Kit Siang was sent out and banned from coming in until after 1pm.

When we finally started to debate the Bill, the arguments presented by the BN MPs were stupefying to say the least. They used the debate to justify the ISA, the banning of ceramahs and demonstrations and even the recent suspension of the permits for Harakah and Suara Keadilan!

Are we talking about the defence of human rights or the right to trample on human rights here? I doubt if the BN MPs know the difference.

The issue at hand was basic human rights. This means the rights which any human being, wherever and whatever he is, has a right to. The denial of these rights would constitute an act of injustice and suppression. The basic human rights include the right to life, honour, freedom, freedom of speech and expression, freedom of association, right to assemble, right to dissent and the rest.

None of these rights can be denied unless due to just cause such as having committed a crime for which one is proven guilty. Then one loses one’s right to freedom, for example, and can be put away for a period which depends on the nature and severity of the crime committed.

The infringement on human rights in Malaysia and at times its total and complete denial is justified by the BN MPs due to the uniqueness of Malaysian society. Its plurality, its diversity, its sensitivities.

As such, they claim, the practice of human rights must be in a manner which “we Malaysians” see as being suitable for our country and cannot be decided for us by international observers or according to some foreign international standard. The “we Malaysians” is of course to be read as “we BN”.

The ISA is justified as a necessary “preventive measure” to avoid political instability and chaos, while the suspension of the Harakah and Suara Keadilan permits are also necessary to avoid racial tensions and the “spread of lies”. Human rights are thus to be sacrificed for the “greater good”.

Again to be read as the “BN’s greater good”. The banning of demonstrations, would you believe it, is justified as necessary so as to prevent traffic jams and thus the denial of the public’s right to jam-free motoring!

Any objective evaluation of the arguments would conclude that there are other more transparent recourses for the government to take when faced with these situations. Trials in an open court of law can be used to prove grounds for preventive detention, newspapers can be sued for libel or for raising racial tensions.

However, these options deny absolute power and disgression to the executive and that is what they are unwilling to accept. By not allowing the system of check and balance to work, they only serve to guarantee that basic human rights, although guaranteed by the constitution, will be denied to the public.

After a short debate, hardly two hours, the minister is then called to respond to the issues raised in the debate. He does so very quickly, not allowing much interruptions or calls for clarifications and at the end explains that the Bill needs to be passed so that it can then be presented to the ICC (International Coordinating Committee) of the UN the next day!

The amendments were being made as a result of the comments received in August 2008 which noted various shortcomings in the original document. It gave little autonomy and limited transparency and as a result Malaysia’s grading may drop.

The suggested amendments were inserted and it is hoped, says the minister, that our grading would not be affected. That explains the bulldozing approach!

It took the BN minister close to a year to prepare a five-paged amendment and it was done not due to any realisation on their part of the shortcomings. As far as they were concerned, Malaysian human rights, according to Malaysian standards and realities, were OK. It was done merely to comply, at least outwardly.

If grades are determined by what is written on paper and not what is practised in real life, then we have a good chance of being upgraded. If, on the other hand, it is determined by what is practised, then as the quality of debate and nature of BN views expressed prove, we have a good chance of staying where we are or dropping further down the grading ladder!

Someone asked “what should we do?” My answer, “What any self-respecting Malaysian would. Join the movement for change. Spread the word. Distribute articles. Attend talk shows. Educate. Elucidate. Emulate. Gather family, friends and acquaintances. Register with the Election Commission as voters. Be ready for the next GE. Nothing can stop an informed and politically active society from achieving change for the better”.

[Khalid Samad is currently the PAS Member of Parliament for Shah Alam. He studied Fuel and Energy Engineering in Leeds University, UK, and is also a member of PAS Central Political Bureau. He hails from an illustrious family and his brother is Sharir Samad, the Umno MP for Johor Bahru! And yes … they are still on speaking terms …]