On behalf of the Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (PROHAM) I am honoured and delighted to welcome each and every one of you to the launching of PROHAM book entitled ‘ PROHAM and Human Rights Concerns in Malaysia.’ Your presence makes the occasion more meaningful and will give PROHAM added encouragement in our collective efforts towards the creation and promotion of respect for human rights culture in this country.
With greater awareness of human rights, this country will become a better place to live in. The relationship between the government and the people and among the people themselves will greatly improve, generating more goodwill and reducing, if not eliminating, mistrust and misunderstanding. This is even more important in a plural society like Malaysia.PROHAM has just concluded its 3rd AGM. The launching of the book has been planned to coincide with the AGM. I am sure PROHAM members will agree with me when I say that this book would not have become a reality had it not been for the unyielding effort and hard work of Datuk Dr. Denison, PROHAM Secretary-General, who compiled and edited the book despite the fact that he has a full time job. It incorporates record of PROHAM’s main activities for the years 2011 and 2012.
PROHAM is not pro-government, not pro-opposition, not pro-anybody, only pro-human rights and pro-good governance. The government is duty bound to practice and observe good governance, namely it should be participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follow the rule of law.
13TH GENERAL ELECTIONSIt is expected that the 13th general elections will be called at any time. All past predictions as to when the general elections are going to be held have been proven wrong. In this connection PROHAM reiterates its earlier call for the electoral rolls, allegedly tainted, to be truly cleaned up and for the government and the Election Commission to ensure a clean, fair and free election. PROHAM also calls for freedom of the press, equal access to the media and a more level playing field. These are among the important universal democratic values. A government that observes and practices good governance will subscribe to such ideals. Democracy and human rights are opposite sides of the same coin. The higher and greater observance of democratic principles the fewer number of incidents of human rights violations.
Speaking of general elections I am reminded of what took place in Sabah in the early hours of 22nd April, 1985 at about 5.00 am when the late Tun Datu Mustapha was sworn in as Chief Minister despite the fact that his party did not win the election. I call this democracy Sabah style based on a ‘first come first served’ basis rather than first past the post. Whoever reached the Istana first formed the government. This incident indicates that democracy cannot survive under any condition.
Political leaders as well as the general population must be aware that there are rules of the game that need to be complied with. The voters need to have a certain level of literacy standard and the existence of a sizeable middle class. The people should be aware of their human and democratic rights and the role and responsibilities of the government as well as the opposition. The government of today could be the opposition of tomorrow and vice-versa. It is the function of the government to govern. The opposition keeps the government on its toes by providing constructive criticisms as well as to capture power through democratic means.
The government acts as the trustees of the people to take care and not abuse public fund and assets, amongst others. This is why there are so many rules and regulations involved in the administration and management of public fund. They are meant to minimize, if not eliminate irregularities. It is the duty of the government to bring development to all constituencies including those represented by the opposition.
Unfortunately, I hear very often government political leaders telling people that there is no use electing the opposition because it cannot bring development to their areas. Many people do not realize that as opposition it has no access to public fund. Only the government has such access. It is therefore outside the scope of the opposition to undertake development projects.
ISSUES IN SABAH – KG TANDUO, LAHAD DATUSabah is again very much in the news and as usual, more often than not, all for the wrong reason. Government tells the people not to speculate. However one cannot blame them because the authorities themselves send confusing and conflicting information. It was reported that a group of armed Filipinos landed at Kg. Tanduo, Lahad Datu on 9th February, this year (2013).
The Minister of Home Affairs was reported to have said that they were between 80 and 100 of them and they were not terrorists or militants despite the fact that they carried arms. Subsequently the numbers quoted ranged from 100 to 1,500. But no one appears to know the exact figure. On 13th February the Sabah Commissioner of Police was reported to have said that they would all be deported within a week. Then some political leaders from the government side explained that the government needed to handle the situation through negotiation to avoid bloodshed because they were Muslims. If the intruders were non-Muslims would they have been all shot and killed immediately without mercy or sentiment?
If my memory does not fail me, I think this was the position taken by the government in respect of the Vietnamese refugees in the early 70s. Those who managed to land in Malaysia were confined to pulau Bidong and within 2 years they were all gone, unlike those in Sabah who were mostly from the separatist Muslim southern Philippines.I thought when a country is invaded religious issue does not arise. Invaders are invaders, full stop. Yes, they may be Muslims but that did not prevent them from killing and mutilating the bodies of Malaysian police personnel who were all Muslims except one, based on newspaper reports.
Condolences to the bereaved familiesIn this connection and on behalf of PROHAM I offer my heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families who lost their loved ones and bread winners. They have sacrificed their lives for the security and defense of the country. What higher and bigger sacrifice can one offers for one’s country than one’s own life? May Almighty God grant them eternal rest and peace.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTSIt is PROHAM’s hope that respect for human rights prevails and the authorities allow the UN into the conflict areas to monitor the situation. Actual situation and events on the ground are believed to be different from what have been portrayed by the relevant authorities.
One of the more interesting speculations being talked about is the possibility of using the Sabah stand-off as an excuse to declare a state of emergency and postpone the forthcoming 13th general elections or at least in Sabah, considering the timing of the incident. What makes the situation frightening is the thought that there could very well be more foreigners in the state than citizens. Their rate of population growth is also believed to be a lot higher than the locals. The tendency for the locals to migrate also appears to be on the rise because they do not see a bright future especially for the younger generations. The unusually large migrant population who are already in Sabah could trigger some kind of civil war in sympathy for their countrymen.For more than 40 years, the Philippines government and the separatist south have been fighting against one another and peace in the region is very elusive. Fighting and killing human beings there appears to be part of daily life. According to newspaper reports, our security personnel saw white flags being raised by the intruders at Kg. Tanduo. The white flags were used as bait and 2 members of the Malaysian security force were shot and killed. The Malaysian side appeared to be too trusting. It must be remembered that this clash is not between 2 armies but between the Malaysian security force and the armed intruders.
Sabah is fondly known as the ‘land below the wind.’ Now it can easily qualify as the ‘land of illegal immigrants’ who have changed the economic, social, cultural and political landscape of the state I could never imagined before it became part of Malaysia. The problems associated with the illegal immigrants are popularly referred to as the mother of all problems. Their role in determining the outcome of past and future general elections in the state cannot be under-estimated. Sabah has not been referred to by the BN as its fixed deposit for nothing. Several years ago I commented that the reverse take-over has long started in Sabah. Now the existing scenario indicates its reality.I have no intention of blaming the illegal immigrants for being in Sabah. As human beings they are just looking for a better life and opportunities. They have equal human rights, no more, no less than any Malaysian. Their human rights must be respected. Human rights have no borders. However, the question often asked by Sabahans is why are they allowed into the state by the federal government without proper travel documents and move around with impunity?
It is alleged that hundreds of thousands of them have obtained citizenship status and voting rights provided they vote for the BN government. In the past, such allegations have been denied by government leaders but are now muted in view of hard evidence given by witnesses called so far to testify before the on-going RCI.Incidentally, the RCI hearing has been postponed to a later date due to the stand-off. Such a move does not give the people confidence to feel that there is nothing to worry about. After all the RCI hearing is held at the High Court building in KK. I have a hunch that Malaysians from the Peninsula have now better understanding and appreciation of what Sabah has been going through since the late 60s. I will not be surprised if many of these people have since moved to the Peninsula becoming fixed deposit there.
What has been happening in Sabah all these years is beginning to take place in the peninsula. Indications are that all these are part of the federal government agenda originally for Sabah. In short, the government has made its bed, so now it has to lie on it. The government appears to be so uncaring to citizens living in Sabah by giving priority to non-citizens over genuine Sabahans.
The election results of the 12th general elections in March 2008 represent the dawn of a new and more promising political development in the country. There is hopeful sign of a 2-party system beginning to appear. The political culture has been dominated by racial and religious sentiments for far too long and it is not taking the country in the right direction. This direction now appears to be changing for the better. We are beginning to see more multi-racialism in political party’s membership compared to the past. The internet literacy, the availability of other modern means of communications and the rising literacy rate help to empower the population like never before especially in the peninsula. Sabah and Sarawak are also slowly catching up. This being the case it is getting more and more difficult for the government to hide the truth from the general public. A government which fails to adjust and respond appropriately to such changing situation will eventually collapse.
STATE OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN MALAYSIAFinally, let me share with you some thoughts on the state of human rights in the country. Based on Suhakam annual reports, Suaram assessment, the US Department of State report and information available from the media and other sources, the state of human rights in the country does not appear to be improving especially in respect of civil and political rights.
According to Suaram, the human rights situation in 2011 was worse than in 2010. 27 people were detained without trial in 2011. The number was 25 in 2010. There were 25 cases of custodial deaths in 2011 compared to 18 in 2010. Overcrowding in prisons and places of detention continue to persist. In 2010 the country’s 31 prisons held about 38,387 prisoners designed to hold about 32,600.In August 2010, the secretary-general of the Ministry of Home Affairs acknowledged deficiencies in detention centres as well as failure to meet international standards. By August 2011 it is reliably believed that RELA membership reached about 2.7 million. It is alleged that they are not suitably experienced and trained for the job leading to human rights violation of the people they are supposed to protect.
PROHAM notes with disappointment the following human rights issues:· To date none of Suhakam’s Annual Reports has ever been debated in Parliament. Suhakam has been preparing annual reports since the year 2000. It is suggested that the Suhakam Act be amended to make it mandatory for Parliament to debate its annual reports. It could also be amended for commissioners to be appointed only once but on a 7-year term to make the national human rights institution truly independent.
· It is believed that to date most, if not all, the recommendations of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission remain as recommendations.
· Land rights of the indigenous peoples remain largely unresolved despite repeated recommendations submitted to the government by Suhakam and other human rights bodies. PROHAM hopes that the recommendations contained in a report of the National Land Inquiry of indigenous peoples conducted recently by Suhakam will receive better and more sympathetic attention from the government. It is understood that Suhakam is now in the process of finalizing the report.
· To date, Malaysia has not signed and ratified the core international human rights instruments including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
· Initial enthusiasm concerning the proposed National Human Rights Action Plan appears to have died down. Soon after its inception in April 2000, Suhakam recommended in 2001 that the government should develop and formulate a National Human Rights Action Plan. After more than 10 years, finally the government agreed. Such a plan will assist to improve and strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights by placing human rights in their proper context of public policy. PROHAM hopes the necessary follow-up actions would be taken without further delay.
With these remarks, ladies and gentlemen, I have much pleasure in launching PROHAM’s book entitled “ PROHAM and Human Rights Concerns in Malaysia.” I wish all of you an interesting, pleasant and enjoyable evening and fellowship and thank you for your kind attention. Thank you very much.---------------------------------
Text of speech by Tan Sri Simon Sipaun (Proham Chair) at the Proham book launch held on March 18, 2013 at Petaling Jaya