Born again democrats and politics of impunity


Kua Kia Soong

Of late, Malaysian politics seems to have taken on some of the rules of organized religions. It is well known that in some religions, you may have committed so much sin in your lifetime but so long as before your last breath expires, you accept the Chosen One as your personal savior and you have booked your place in the hereafter.

Does it look any different in Malaysian politics? You can be part of the Barisan Nasional that has run the country for all these 58 years, wreaking havoc on ethnic relations, mishandling the economy through corruption, enriching selected elites, detaining innocent Malaysians without trial, etc. but if you become a ‘born again democrat’ and denounce the current regime, it looks as though your record in the Barisan Nasional can be wiped clean.

And this ‘Born Again’ rule seems to apply even to ‘Mahafiraun’ the Great Pharoah who assaulted the Malaysian Judiciary so badly we have hardly recovered thirty years after. He has not only been cleansed and forgiven; some Opposition leaders are even calling for him to lead the opposition to the current regime.

Religion aside, the people are more interested in justice and ensuring these former politicians get their just desserts and repay their dues to the rakyat. Pandering to Mahathir in the bid to topple the current regime is one thing. Will the alternative coalition leaders come out and say categorically that when they come into office they will re-open the books on all the financial scandals since the seventies and eighties that have cost the rakyat billions of ringgit?

Our fears are by no means unreasonable for we do not hear anymore of the alleged improprieties of the former Menteri Besar of Selangor Khalid Ibrahim that were made by PR in their bid to unseat him. Unless of course they have not been able to prove them in the first place and the whole Kajang Move was an elaborate ploy.

If PR is prepared to paper over the cracks in the case of Khalid Ibrahim just because he agreed to step down as MB, are they going to do the same with all of Mahathir’s trespasses that they have been railing about all these years?

In the real world of justice and accountability, there is no place for “born again democrats” who try to seek salvation by joining the grand alliance against the current regime. In human rights, democracy and justice, there is no place for impunity.

Impunity means “exemption from punishment or loss or escape from fines”. It refers to the failure to bring perpetrators of human rights violations, rule of law flouters and the corrupt to justice and constitutes a denial of the victims’ right to justice and redress. We are familiar with impunity which is especially common in countries that do not respect the rule of law, that suffer from corruption and have entrenched systems of patronage, or where the judiciary is weak and the security forces are protected by the powers-that-be.

The First Principle of the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights through Action to Combat Impunity, submitted to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on 8 February 2005 states that:

“Impunity arises from a failure by States to meet their obligations to investigate violations; to take appropriate measures in respect of the perpetrators, particularly in the area of justice, by ensuring that those suspected of criminal responsibility are prosecuted, tried and duly punished; to provide victims with effective remedies and to ensure that they receive reparation for the injuries suffered; to ensure the inalienable right to know the truth about violations; and to take other necessary steps to prevent a recurrence of violations.”

SUARAM has been in the forefront of the struggle against impunity. We do not want to see impunity being entrenched in this country through the rehabilitation of “born again democrats” and we expect any future governments to bear this in mind. Those who have transgressed against the people must prepare to face the charges on their judgement day.

Dr Kua Kia Soong is adviser to Suaram, a human rights group