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Saturday, 2 January 2016

We’re turning back human rights clock if NSC Bill becomes law, says Hasmy

Putrajaya will be turning back the country’s “human rights clock” if the National Security Council Bill becomes law, outgoing Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) chairman Tan Sri Hasmy Agam says.

In an interview before the end of his tenure in April, Hasmy said the state of human rights in the past five years has not changed, as positive strides such as repealing the Internal Security Act, (ISA) were subsequently nullified by enacting newer laws that choked civil liberties.
Hasmy’s comments cap a dark year for the state of Malaysia’s human rights as Putrajaya strengthened laws which further stifled free speech and authorities expanded crackdowns against critics of the Najib administration. “As for now, I’m afraid we are not making much progress. While there were some positive developments, such as the removal of ISA, there have also been developments that are putting back the human rights clock.
“(These include) the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015 (POTA) and the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma), along with the continuation of the Sedition Act (now strengthened) and the passage of the NSC Bill.
“If the bill becomes law, it will put us as a nation even further back when the rest of the world is moving forward in the context of human rights and good governance,” Hasmy told The Malaysian Insider.
The NSC Bill, which was bulldozed through the Dewan Rakyat and passed by the Dewan Negara, allows the council chaired by the prime minister to declare security zones.
This power has been described by civil society as “emergency-like powers” and contravened the Federal Constitution, since only the Yang di-Pertuan Agong has the power to declare an emergency.
Critics say the security bill gives unfettered powers to a sitting prime minister without the need to get a royal consent during national crises.
The council can also authorise searches, seizures of property and arrests in security areas without warrants.
LGBT issues the most difficult
Hasmy said LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-, trans-sexual) rights would also be a challenging issue which the new commissioners and society needed to deal with seriously and carefully.
Although it was an extremely complicated issue, a national discussion has to be had to understand and promote a degree of tolerance towards the community, he said.
“This is highly sensitive issue in Malaysia, which must be handled with great care and prudence so as not to affect the progression of human rights agenda in the country.
“The commission will continue to handle this challenge through greater dialogue and engagement with the parties concerned in the hope that over time, there would be greater understanding or tolerance resulting in fewer, if not zero incidence of harassment and intimidation and better respect for personal liberties and privacy.
“I must admit this issue is one of the most difficult issues to be handled by the commission with no easy solution in sight.”
Hasmy said another challenge was to improve the understanding of human rights in Malaysia where many still looked at them through the lens of ethnicity, culture and religion.
Malaysians have to change their mindsets and attitudes towards human rights, he said.
Suhakam has, in the past, also taken Putrajaya to task for conflicting positions on human rights, as the government tries to burnish its international image while making political statements at home. – January 3, 2016.
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