By Rama Ramanathan
March 25, 2014 (Malaysian Insider)
When the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) was formed in 2000, Simon was one of the first commissioners to be appointed. He served Suhakam for ten years, including 6 years as vice-chairman. Presently he is serving a second 3-year term on the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) advisory board; this appointment will end in February 2015.
In 2011 he became founding chairman of Persatuan Hak Asasi Manusia (Proham, Society for the Promotion of Human Rights), an NGO formed by former human Rights and Police Commissioners.
“Simon Sipaun: Human Rights Defender” is a collection of nineteen speeches Simon delivered while he served as chairman of Proham.
The speeches were collected and organized by Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria, Secretary General of Proham, who also wrote the introduction. Tan Sri Hasmy Agam, current Chairman of Suhakam, contributed the Foreword.
Denison, a Principal Research Fellow at the Institute of Ethnic Studies (KITA) at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), explains that Tan Sri Simon always spoke from a written text which he supplied, in advance, to whoever invited him.
Seventeen of the speeches were delivered at Proham meetings. 2 were delivered at other meetings Simon was invited to during the period he served Proham.
The speeches are grouped under seven categories: Human rights concerns; Universal Periodic Review; social inclusion; citizenship; religious freedom; general elections; ethnic relations. Denison summarizes the value of this collection:
“The speeches . . . give a deeper insight into
(1) the issues which have beset our nation in the period 2011-2014;
(2) the critical yet constructive role civil society has played to help the State address the issues and
(3) the challenges on the path to establishing socio-economic inclusion for all individuals, groups and communities.” (Page 9)
Hasmy’s summary is also insightful:
“The issues that Tan Sri Simon touched on are wide-ranging – from a general yet incisive overview of the human rights situation in Malaysia to his bold and instructive commentary on Malaysia, its past, present and future, to the sensitive issues of illegal immigrants in Sabah and ethnic relations and religious freedom, among others.” (Page 5)
Denison and Hasmy have admirably summarized the book’s value. I will merely introduce and cite a few key passages to demonstrate the tone and content of what Simon says.
Simon is alert to the messages in the signs which surround us, even in T-shirts:
“Recently I received an e-mail inviting me to buy a T-shirt to make people aware that Malaysia Day which falls on 16th September is in fact ‘Occupation Day.’ Inscribed on the T-shirt are slogans stating ‘oil and gas stolen, native rights trampled, civil service Malay-nized, 20-points violated, Labuan taken over, cabotage policy and project I.C.’ This is an indication of how some Sabahans feel about Malaysia today. It is one of disappointment. It is not the Malaysia they expected 50 years later.” (Page 26)
Simon’s speeches as chairman were designed to be backdrops for other speakers, and so are more diagnostic and descriptive than prescriptive. Yet, one speech, delivered in a law firm, includes his (28 item) wish list for Malaysia. In one item he equates Malay Supremacy – a theme which runs through the speeches – with Apartheid and Nazism:
“The political ideology of ‘ketuanan Melayu’ or Malay supremacy should be abandoned. It is akin to the Apartheid System of South Africa and Nazi Germany, which, thankfully, failed to survive in the end.” (Page 35)
Simon doesn’t mince his words. He stridently expresses his disappointment with political leaders, diplomats and world leaders who live in la-la lands:
“President Obama is reported to have said on 11th October 2013 that ‘Malaysia is a model of diversity, tolerance and progress.’ Either Obama was grossly misinformed – which is unlikely – or just playing politics.” (Page 51)
Simon, an administrator who ended his career at the apex of the Sabah civil service, clearly considers 1Malaysia to be smoke and mirrors, not a foundation or an elixir:
“When the PM took office in April 2009, he introduced the concept of 1Malaysia. I understand that inclusiveness is incorporated in the concept. Since then many programmes have been initiated based on the concept. Other ‘ones’ followed including 1Malaysia badge, t-shirt, Tupperware, note-book, clinic, housing, RM 500 cash aid and so on. Surprisingly, more than 3 years later the PM was reported to have stated that the concept was deliberately designed to be vague right from the beginning. How do you expect to achieve the desired results from vague concepts and policies? (Page 68)
Simon listened closely to the pulse of the nation by monitoring current events. When Parliament showed disdain for the judiciary, and put political expediency above justice, Simon didn’t hesitate to indict the government; he didn’t hesitate to name names:
“The New Sabah Times in its 9 June, 2001 edition reported that the High Court ordered former Chief Minister Datuk Yong Teck Lee to vacate his Likas seat because he won it in 1999 with the help of phantom voters. Justice Datuk Muhammad Kamil Awang said that the 1998 electoral roll for the constituency was illegal and the election held in March 1999 was null and void. The judge . . . stated that the evidence adduced was the tip of the iceberg . . . was fantastic.
“The next logical step would have been to clean the electoral roll. Instead, parliament amended the Election Act, whereby the electoral roll once gazetted cannot be challenged in any court of law. This is just not right.” (Page 83)
Simon, the patriot, administrator and visionary whose contributions were so often recognised by the King, calls Malaysia a racist nation with an authoritarian government:
“...I am unable to find one good reason why Malaysia should persistently continue to be not a party to ICERD [UN International Convention on Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination]. Any government which refuses to be a party to ICERD is a government that supports racism and racial discrimination. How else can I interpret such a state of affairs? 175 countries are currently party to ICERD including many Islamic countries. . . . [Malaysia] is in the company of countries like North Korea, Myanmar and . . . other authoritarian countries.” (Page 117)
Simon often reaches back into his memory of what life in North Borneo was like and could have remained. Police reports against his candid speeches don’t bother him:
“I spent 25 years of my life in North Borneo, as Sabah was then known, before it became part of Malaysia on 16 September 1963. There was no such problem [falsely labelling people as Muslims in their Mykads and causing them to live in fear that when they died their wealth would be distributed according to Islamic law and their bodies would be subjected to Islamic burial] then. Religion was not legislated... all these problems associated with race and religion are post Malaysia developments, man-made, and appear to be getting worse. I said something like this not too long ago and within hours 2 police reports were made against me by UMNO youth in Sabah. This could never have happened in North Borneo since there was no UMNO youth then.” (Page 131)
Simon Sipaun: Human Rights Defender is an appropriately titled book. I was present when he delivered several of the speeches. I think this 133 page book well represents the man: humble, bold, tireless, watchful.
Tan Sri Simon models what all of us, not just ‘retired patriots’ can do for Malaysia. – March 25, 2014.
* Rama Ramanathan is a Proham volunteer, and blogs at write2rest.blogspot.com.