SUHAKAM’s Positive Efforts Must Continue

SUARAM commends the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) for sending an official monitoring team to the Anti ISA candlelight vigil on 1 August 2010 at Padang Timur Dataran MBPJ, Petaling Jaya. This was in response to an earlier request by SUARAM and Gerakan Mansuhkan ISA (GMI) to send a monitoring team for the vigil. The vigil was held to commemorate the passing of the Internal Security Act (ISA) 50 years ago and to call for the abolition of the ISA.

SUARAM notes that SUHAKAM Commissioners James Nayagam and Muhammad Sha’ani, accompanied by their five officers, were present before the vigil began and also at the Petaling Jaya police headquarters where those arrested were brought. They continued monitoring at the police station until the last person was released at approximately 4.50am.

This is indeed a positive step forward following SUHAKAM’s refusal to do the same exactly one year ago, in the massive anti-ISA rally in August 2009, which subsequently saw 589 individuals being arrested.

Such renewed efforts in SUHAKAM’s work is indeed welcomed and is especially timely in view of the continued occurrence of grave violations of human rights in the country. SUHAKAM’s latest effort is a glimpse of what the Human Rights Commission that Malaysia could and ought to do to fulfil its mandate as a credible national human rights institution and expected role as a public defender of human rights.

Notwithstanding this, SUARAM expresses concern over the government’s disregard of SUHAKAM’s previous recommendations. The arrests made during the anti-ISA candlelight vigil on 1 August 2010 were the latest of the many instances of the government’s refusal to comply with SUHAKAM’s numerous recommendations on peaceful assembly, including those contained in the Commission’s reports of its public inquiries on the cases of the Kesas Highway incident (2001), the “Bloody Sunday” incident in KLCC (2006), and the Bandar Mahkota Cheras incident (2008). In the report of the public inquiry into the “Bloody Sunday” incident, for example, SUHAKAM recommended that “peaceful assemblies should be allowed to proceed without a license”. However, through the excessive use of force by the police and FRU personnel in dispersing participants of the candlelight vigil and previous peaceful assemblies, it is evident that SUHAKAM’s repeated recommendations to the Government have fallen on deaf ears.

SUARAM thus strongly calls upon the police and the Malaysian Government to respect SUHAKAM’s decisions and actions following the Anti ISA vigil and to implement all recommendations made by SUHAKAM.

Encouraged by the positive efforts by SUHAKAM, SUARAM lastly urges the Commission to revisit all recommendations made to the government with increased vigour. SUHAKAM must ensure that its improved efforts in the protection and promotion of human rights do not end with this instance.