Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 16 March 2017

When I published my book on ‘May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969’ in 2007, I called for a ‘Truth & Reconciliation Commission’ (TRC) as a step forward for Malaysians to gain access to the truth about the May 13bloodshed and take the nation on the road to reconciliation. As the South African experience demonstrated, such a commission is not aimed at allowing old wounds to fester but to call upon the people of Malaysia to learn to forgive, to be generous in spirit and above all, to learn lessons from that traumatic past in our history.  Such a Truth & Reconciliation Commission should pay due respects to the victims of the riot and the grief suffered by their kin.

Not only has the Government ignored this call for a Truth and Reconciliation process, we now hear that the burial ground of some of the May 13 victims at Sungai Buloh is threatened by plans to create a car park there.  We know that there were at least two burial sites for the victims of May 13, one in Gombak and the other in Sungai Buloh. There are around 100 victims buried at this Sungai Buloh cemetery with summary tombstones citing “courtesy of the Malaysian government” inscribed on them.

Honour the victims by revealing their identities

Historical facts and especially relics are a source of collective wisdom on which we must value whether these are about the Bujang Valley 2500 years ago or the May 13 riots less than 50 years ago. The first task then for a TRC is to identify who the victims of the May 13 riots were. What are the names of the victims in these hundred or so graves at Sungai Buluh?

According to official figures, there were 196 fatalities in the May 13 incident even though foreign diplomatic estimates put it at several hundred. The real historical fact of how many and who died can thus be uncovered by a TRC. But even if we take the official figures at face value, how do we account for the other 96 victims? Were they all buried in Gombak? Where is the evidence of this? Can we honour them by revealing their identities and giving them a decent ceremonial burial?

Time to declassify May 13 records

I managed to research my book on May 13 only because of the lifting of the British Government’s Thirty Years’ Secrecy Rule. Is it not time for the Malaysian Government to do the same now that the event is nearly fifty years old? An important source of information is the Special Branch archives. During my detention under Operation Lalang, the Special Branch investigation officers bragged that they have the best archives in the country, far better than any university library in the country! I believe them… Now the people should demand that they declassify these May 13 records, or at least the names and numbers of the victims of the riots.

Doctors who were working at the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital and University Hospital at the time have testified that corpses that were brought into the hospital morgues had been tarred to conceal their ethnic identities. If these stories are true, their bodies should be exhumed and identified and the cause of death determined. These are facts that a Truth & Reconciliation Commission can uncover about events at that time through listening to testimonies from victims’ families and friends; doctors and nurses on duty in the hospitals; Red Cross staff who played an important role then; policemen and soldiers on duty; politicians and journalists who covered the event, and of course our ubiquitous Special Branch.

A TRC on Malaysia’s May 13 Incident will not incur the time and efforts that South Africa’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission went through. South Africa’s TRC was established by the new South African government in 1995 to help bring about a reconciliation of its people by uncovering the truth about human rights violations that had occurred during the period of apartheid. Its emphasis was on getting to the truth and not on prosecuting individuals for past crimes. The commission was open to the public and allowed victims or their loved ones to tell their story. These documented accounts then became public record, which helps deter the possibility of any denial of the history.

Those who ignore history…

The Qingming (All Souls) festival is about honouring the departed. This festival is a time of reflection and a time to honour and give thanks to the departed ancestors by visiting their graves. Thus, as this year’s Qingming festival approaches, let us honour the victims of May 13, 1969 by vowing to preserve their graves. It is time Malaysians face up to our real history and to understand that if we do not confront the past, we will not be able to move into the future…