When I was tasked with the launching of Tan Sri Simon Sipaun’s Anthology of Speeches, entitled simply and aptly “Simon Sipaun: Human Rights Defender”, I was at first filled with trepidation – How does one introduce a man who has done so much for so many?. After an attempt at a cursory glance of the anthology, (I say attempt because it was such an easy and good read that I was able to finish cover to cover in a shorter time span than it took me to write this speech!), I decided that the best way to regale this exemplary character was to take a leaf out of his simplicity and tell his story as it is!Born in North Borneo (Sabah as it was then known), Tan Sri Simon Sipaun was the 3rd of 5 children to his ethnic Kadazandusun parents. His family made a meager living by growing vegetables and raising chickens and buffalo. His subsistence-farming parents were illiterate but thankfully, the availability of mission schools meant that Tan Sri Simon did not suffer the same fate. He excelled at school and was awarded a number a academic scholarships, which took him to New Zealand and then Oxford University in the 1960s. He always laments that when he arrived home, it was no longer the same; North Borneo had ceased to exist, and in its place was a very ‘foreign’ Sabah. He was introduced to concepts he had not known before – Ketuanan Melayu, a quota system, a constitution that conferred a special position to a particular race and a polarized society with racial and religious problems.
In this foreign land of Sabah, he started work in the Civil Service. He would go on to hold a number of senior government roles, including the position of State Secretary for Sabah. Throughout his career as a bureaucrat, promoting and protecting the fundamental human rights of fellow Malaysians especially the indigenous Malaysians became his primary concern.Nelson Mandela, Tan Sri Simon’s most respected leader, once said “A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.” True to the very words, Tan Sri Simon was then selected to serve as a Commissioner in SUHAKAM where he then brought the plight of human rights violation especially of the indigenous Malaysians into focus. He eventually became the Vice-Chair of the Commission. He then became the founding Chairman of PROHAM where I was finally privileged to make his acquaintance. During his tenure as Chair of PROHAM, he continued his vigilant fight for the human rights of his fellow Malaysians.
We at PROHAM have learnt much from his wisdom and experience. This Anthology serves as a tribute and a surprise for Tan Sri Simon Sipaun, who embodies the virtues that we at PROHAM advocate.This anthology has been helpfully categorized thematically; Human Rights Concerns, Universal Periodic Review, Social Inclusion, Citizenship, Religious Freedom, General Elections and Ethnic Relations. From these speeches, the reader will be able to get a valuable insight to the man and his life’s work as a Human Right’s Defender.
As a man from the indigenous community in Sabah, Sipaun is able to speak from a position of intimate knowledge on their experience and their plight at being denied the fundamental right of inclusion which he believes is “implies treatment of every citizen equally and without exception. It is the right way to move forward. Inclusiveness is regarded as an unavoidable national aspiration. Inclusiveness promotes and strengthens genuine national unity and integration.”As a man who has served this nation, he is harsh in his criticism of the Government, which he believes, and rightly so, should “rule as the trustees of the people and in line with the principles of good governance.” Such principles begin with the basic respect for the fundamental freedoms of the people. However, from his point of view, the Government has severely failed – “The ultimate objective of creating a culture of respect for human rights in this country remains a dream.”
As a man who is desirous to see Malaysia grow and mature into a strong human rights respecting nation, he is ever the optimist – “giving up is not the solution. It is not an option. The promotion and protection of human rights is a continuous process. It is a moving target and could change direction when least expected. It is an unending journey. What cannot be achieved today could be achieved tomorrow. Where the present generation failed, the next generation could succeed.”For that reason, Tan Sri Simon has called for “Malaysian leaders” and not “leaders for the Malays, Chinese, Indians and other minority races” to guide Malaysia. He perhaps did not realize that he himself is that which he seeks – a true Malaysian leader. Like his idol; Nelson Mandela, Tan Sri Simon Sipaun is indeed, a visionary and is one of a kind! Just as Nelson Mandela has left a legacy, I sincerely hope that this Anthology serves as Tan Sri Simon Sipaun’s legacy to the people of Malaysia.
Thoughts shared by the new Proham Chair at the Launch of the book entitled Simon Sipaun: Human Rights Defender on March 17, 2014