Press release: 21 July 2010

Press release: 21 July 2010

SUARAM’s 2009 Human Rights Report:
Najib’s First Year as PM Tarnished by Culture of Impunity, Heightened Intolerance, and Resistance to Change

Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) released its “Malaysia Human Rights Report 2009:
Civil and Political Rights” in Kuala Lumpurtoday, 21 July 2010.

SUARAM’s report highlights several key trends in human rights in 2009, including: (1) the increasingly serious and repeated cases of abuses of power by the police and law enforcement agencies with impunity; (2) the heightened intolerance towards dissent; and (3) the Barisan Nasional (BN) government’s resistance towards reform and greater compliance with human rights standards.

1. Increasingly Serious and Repeated Abuses of Power by Law Enforcement Agencies At its launch, SUARAM noted the serious and repeated abuses of power – not only by the police, but now increasingly rampant in other law enforcement agencies, such as the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

SUARAM also noted that there were at least two international reports published in 2009, exposing the collusion of Immigration Department authorities in the trafficking of refugees to the Malaysia-Thailand border.

8 Deaths in Custody in 2009
In 2009, there were 7 deaths in police custody, according to official statistics. Another death occurred in the custody of the MACC on 16 July 2009, when Teoh Beng Hock, an aide of a politician from the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP), fell from the 14th floor of the MACC building when he was there for questioning by the Commission.

While deaths in police custody have been a major problem in previous years, this was the first time that a death occurred in the MACC’s custody. Still, the MACC has also had a tarnished record in the past. In 2007, SUARAM documented the case of a man who died three weeks after being brutally assaulted during an interrogation by officers of the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA), as the anti-corruption body was then known.

The recent case of alleged torture of former Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) officer Tharmendran by military intelligence officers in connection to the theft of two jet engines is a manifestation of the systemic problem of torture, abuse of power and culture of impunity in the country. Tharmendran claimed that he was
hit with a golf stick, forced to strip and stand on a block of ice to an hour at a time, and threatened with death.

The fact that Malaysia has to date refused to ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT) despite being repeatedly urged to do so only goes to show that the government accepts torture as a form of punishment in this country!

88 People Shot Dead by the Police in 2009
Equally as worrying are the cases of deaths caused by police shooting, which have occurred rampantly with impunity. 88 people were shot dead by the police in 2009, with not a single police officer known to be held accountable for any of those deaths. The high number of deaths caused by police shootings in 2009 is
indeed alarming, considering that there were only 13 such cases, according to official sources, in 2007.

These cases continue to occur at an alarming rate in 2010, including in the case of 15-year-old Aminulrasyid who was shot dead by the police on 26 April 2010when he was in a car in Shah Alam, Selangor. As recent as 5 July 2010, another case was reported, where four suspected robbers were shot dead by the police at the
residence of an executive councilor of the state of Pahang.

2. Heightened Intolerance towards Dissent
In 2009, there were mass arrests of participants of public peaceful assemblies in numbers which significantly exceeded those in previous years, signalling the government’s increasing intolerance of dissent. Close to a thousand people were arrested by the police for various acts of peaceful protest, including by holding candlelight vigils, wearing black and even participating in a hunger strike!

Close to a Thousand Arrested during Peaceful Assemblies in 2009 In May alone, 167 people were arrested in relation to protests against the unconstitutional takeover by the BN of the Perak state government. On 1 August 2009, 589 people, including minors, were arrested during the massive anti-ISA rally in Kuala Lumpur– possibly the greatest number of persons arrested in a single public assembly in recent years.

Opposition and Critics of the Government Targeted for Harassment
Opposition politicians, critics of the government and media (both of the opposition and independent ones) have also been attacked and harassed, using repressive laws such as the Sedition Act and the Printing Presses and Publications Act throughout 2009 despite the initial show of commitment towards free speech by Najib Razak when he announced the lifting of the ban on opposition mouthpieces Suara Keadilan and Harakah on the very first day of his premiership.

Freedom of speech and expression, especially that of opposition politicians and critics of the government, has become one of the most seriously and frequently violated human right in Malaysia, and this trend has continued in 2010. Mouthpieces of the opposition political parties – Suara Keadilan, Harakah, and Rocket – were all given show-cause letters in the month of July in 2010.

3. BN Government’s Resistance to Change, More than a Thousand Still Detained
without Trial
Despite the continued momentum of demands for change and better compliance with human rights principles, the BN government has continued to resist change. Despite growing calls for the ISA to be abolished, for example, the government has continued to detain people without trial throughout the year.

At the end of the year, there were nine ISA detainees still incarcerated without being tried in the courts, while more than a thousand people were still being held under the two other detention-without-trial laws, the Emergency Ordinance and the Dangerous Drugs Act.

Even recommendations made by commissions set up by the government, for example the Royal Commission on the Police and the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), have mostly failed to be implemented by the government to date.

Malaysia’s human rights record was reviewed by the international community under the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review. During this review, the Malaysian government received numerous recommendations from United Nations member states to improve its human rights record, including by abolishing all detention-without-trial laws, respect freedom of expression, and recognise the status and rights of refugees. However, most of the more substantial of these recommendations were not accepted by the Malaysian government.

This reluctance to heed the international community’s calls, nevertheless, did not stop Malaysia from seeking election into the United Nations Human Rights Council in May 2010.

4. Increasing Human Rights Awareness: Biggest Anti-ISA Demonstration Yet
Despite the increase in human rights violations in 2009, SUARAM nevertheless noted the rise in human rights awareness in the country. This was perhaps most evident in the biggest ever anti-ISA demonstration held in Kuala Lumpur on 1August 2009, which was attended by more than 30,000 people. Encouraged by the
groundswell of popular calls for change, SUARAM stressed that it will continue to work towards keeping up this momentum with the aim of improving the situation of human rights in the country.

5. SUARAM’s Report Launch Gives Voice to Victims of Detention without Trial
Continuing its tradition of giving voice to victims of human rights violations, SUARAM invited Mat Sah Satray (former ISA detainee, 2002-2010) and the parents of Jagendran Panir Selvam (a minor who was detained without trial under the Emergency Ordinance from January to March 2010, and is currently held under
restricted residence) as guest speakers at the launch of its report.

6. Demands Reiterated
Based on the testimonies of violations provided by Mat Sah and the parents of Jagendran, as well as documentation of numerous cases in previous years, SUARAM strongly urged the government to repeal all detention-without-trial laws, pointing out that these legislations severely violate fundamental human rights.
SUARAM also reiterated several other longstanding demands to the government including:

1. The immediate setting up an independent and effective oversight monitoring body to ensure accountability in the police force and other law enforcement agencies;
2. The repeal of repressive legislations and/or provisions in laws which undermine freedom of speech, expression and assembly, namely the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Official Secrets Act, the Sedition Act, and Section 27 of the Police Act;
3. The recognition of the status and rights of refugees and asylum seekers;
4. The ratification of all remaining core international human rights treaties, noting that Malaysia has only ratified two of the nine core treaties – and even so, with reservations; and
5. The strengthening of SUHAKAM’s independence and effectiveness, and the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations.

In response to the increasingly serious human rights abuses and the heightened intolerance towards dissent and opposition as witnessed in 2009 and 2010, SUARAM noted that it will also heighten its role as a watchdog of the BN federal government as well as both the BN and Pakatan Rakyat state governments, and further warned that failure to heed the increasingly popular calls for human rights compliance would result in the unpopularity and eventual downfall of any government in power.


Following the findings of the National Taskforce Report of September 2009 (Laporan Jawatankuasa Bertindak Peringkat Kebangsaan Bagi Menyiasat Dakwaan Penderaan Seksual Terhadap Wanita Kaum Penan Di Sarawak), which confirmed cases of sexual violence and exploitation of Penan women and girls, a group of non-government organisations set out to investigate further the situation in Sarawak when informed that there were other Penan  women and their families who wanted to share their stories of sexual violence and exploitation.

Furthermore the NGOs were motivated to document new evidence in light ofSarawak state government leaders’ repeated refusals to acknowledge that Penan girls were sexually abused by timber workers and their apparent rejection of the National Taskforce Report findings.

The report entitled A Wider Context of Sexual Exploitation of Penan Women and Girls in Middle and Ulu Baram, Sarawak, Malaysia is the result of a fact-finding mission by the Penan Support Group, FORUM-ASIA and Asian Indigenous Women’s Network (AIWN).

The fact-finding mission visited three (3) Penan communities and one (1) Kenyah community and listened to evidence from a further thirteen (13) Penan communities.

The mission found that women were willing to share their stories, but they did not want to go to the authorities owing to the police’s lackadaisical responses in the past and further obstacles including the lack of identity cards, language barriers and the prohibitive cost of travel.

Seven (7) previously undocumented cases are described in the report.  The cases all point to systematic patterns of violence.  Themes include harassment, abduction, rape, physical assault, emotional abuse, coercion into marriage and desertion upon pregnancy.

The documentation of these cases refutes those who in the past rejected the veracity of the Penan women’s claims.

The purpose of the report is not only to record instances of sexual violence and rape, it is also to contextualise these crimes in the political situation in Middle and Ulu Baram, Sarawak.  This report further confirms that the treatment of the Penan people is intrinsically tied to the wider political situation and demands a political solution.

This wider context within which the sexual violence has taken place includes the systemic undermining of the autonomy and sustainability of the Penan people, which is caused by:

  • the denial of their land rights;
  • the denial of basic citizenship rights for many through a failure to register and issue ID cards;
  • state neglect of their welfare including a failure to guarantee adequate access to basic services such as education and health care; and
  • state failure to provide a supporting environment of the right to redress.

The situation facing Penan communities has been documented previously in various reports over the years.  The impact of logging and ‘land development’ on the Penan communities, their land and their rights was detailed in the NGO report “Not Development, but Theft” in 2000.  The SUHAKAM Report (2007) on Penan in Ulu Belaga highlights the abject poverty in which many Penan communities live and states clearly that the Sarawak state government, as the primary duty bearer, is chiefly responsible to ensure the Penan people’s right to life and standard of living.  The National Taskforce Report (2009), while confirming the allegations of sexual abuse, also makes reference to the poverty the community faces, as well as the lack of access to health care and education among other issues.

The lack of respect and protection afforded to Penan women and girls, as can be seen by their various experiences of sexual violence and exploitation, is tied to the lack of respect and protection shown to the Penan community as a whole.

The report provides recommendations for all sectors of the Malaysian community, including the federal and Sarawak governments, the federal parliament and the Sarawak state assembly, intergovernmental bodies, SUHAKAM, non-government organisations and Bursa Malaysia.  These recommendations aim to support changes resulting in a future where Penan communities have the power to determine the direction and pace of their development, secure in their land and communities and respected for their culture, and above all, enjoy their human rights without discrimination.

For further inquiries, please contact John Liu of SUARAM at +60377843525.