What Do We Expect of Condemned Human Rights Violators?

By Dr Kua Kia Soong, Director of SUARAM

On this 24th anniversary of Operation Lalang, we would have expected the former autocrat Dr Mahathir to recant his cynical use of the ISA for his political purpose in 1987. Instead he supports the former IGP’s warning about how human rights will harm the country.

Rahim Noor, the former IGP has already served his sentence for nearly killing the former Deputy Prime Minister in 1998. This was not only his failure as a human being but he also brought dishonour to the nation’s highest police post by making us look like a banana republic. The police force in a civilised state is meant to be the protector of all citizens and the right to security of the person is the most fundamental human right to be enjoyed by every person in this world.

He should therefore be the last person in this country to talk about human rights because he was condemned as a most despicable human rights violator for beating up the former Deputy Minister who was in his custody. Obviously, his short sentence (two months?) has not served as a deterrent to his scorn for human rights. All the detainees who have died under police custody have likewise been deprived of their fundamental human right to safety of the person.

What this country desperately needs is a human rights wave to make our country ratify the Convention against torture and other forms of ill-treatment and the International Covenant on Civil and political rights so that human rights violators including the police and political leaders do not get away with impunity but are given the most severe deterrent sentence.

Dr Mahathir knows full well how he used Operation Lalang for his political purpose in 1987 when Team B of UMNO had applied to the courts to declare the UMNO elections (the one in which Mahathir’s Team A had won by the skin of their teeth) null and void. During the white terror following the mass arrests, the Lord President was sacked and other Supreme Court judges suspended. The rest is history and it allowed him to continue as Prime Minister for at least 15 more years!

Yes, Dr Mahathir violated fundamental human rights of at least 106 Malaysians (including myself) in 1987 by detaining us without trial for his political purpose. He cannot wash his hands of this gross violation by pointing to the US violations in Guantanamo Bay. Human rights defenders condemn both these violators. Yes, Mahathir’s record of human rights violations belongs to the same league as the US record in Guantanamo Bay. The only difference is of course, while the US violates the human rights of non-US citizens, Dr Mahathir has violated the human rights of Malaysian citizens.

In the light of the Arab Spring, all autocrats – current as well as spent ones – should be prepared to answer for their human rights violations sooner or later!