Is Abu Talib’s appointment an omen that   Suhakam will be  reduced to a pale shadow of present  role – which is  already a far cry from national expectations and the intent of Human Rights Commission Act 1999

Media Statement 
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Tuesday): The question uppermost in the minds of Malaysians is whether the appointment of  former Attorney-General Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman as the new Suhakam chairman is an omen that  Suhakam will be reduced  to a pale shadow of its present role – which is already a far cry from national expectations and the intent and purpose of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 to protect and promote human rights in the country.

Today marks the end of the first two-year appointment of Suhakam commissioners under the chairmanship of Tan Sri Musa Hitam but the assessments of the successes  and failures of the first two-year Suhakam appointments which should be taking place are being  displaced by all-round concerns and alarm as to whether the second Suhakam appointments would be even more ineffective, not only with the appointment of Abu Talib as Chairman but by the dropping of four  Suhakam Commissioners, Tan Sri Anuar Zainal Abdin, Prof. Mehrun Siraj, Datuk Mahadev Shankar and Dr. Salleh Mohd. Nor.

All the four Suhakam commissioners who have been dropped and not re-appointed had  served in the Suhakam Complaints and Inquiries Working Group which had given the  Suhakam whatever “bite” it had been able to show in the last  two years, best  reflected in the 66-page Kesas Highway Incident inquiry report  made public on 20th August 2001 on the  widespread  police violations of human rights against peaceful protestors at the  Kesas Highway on November 5, 2000.

The failure of the government and the police for the past eight months to  respond to the findings and recommendations of the Suhakam inquiry report on the Kesas Highway, which was an indictment of police abuses -  such as unnecessary use of excessive force,  tear gas and  water cannon; use of force including assault  against persons attempting to get away from the scene rather than to  overcome the resistance to the order to disperse; causing injury to persons in detention and delay and failure to provide  medical treatment and medication to those injured;  cruel and inhuman treatment of detainees – is a mockery of government profession of respect for the Suhakam seriously carrying out its statutory duties to protect and promote human rights.

Although the Suhakam Complaints and Inquiries Working Group had not been able to fulfil all public expectations, and its greatest blot is the failure to hold an inquiry into the Kampong Medan racial attacks in March last year which claimed six lives and injured some hundred people, Malaysians are entitled to ask what is the message the government seeks to convey by openly  axing the Suhakam commissioners who had formed the  backbone of this Suhakam working group?

Is it that there would not be anymore Sukaham inquiries and reports like the one on the widespread human rights violations by the police in the Kesas Highway Incident?

Abu Talib’s appointment as Suhakam Chairman has rightly and naturally aroused reservations about the credibility and independence of Suhakam as his 14-year tenure  as Attorney-General 1980-1993 had been marked by several controversies which raised disturbing questions about his credibility, independence and integrity, viz:  

In fact, in January 1990, I had written formally as Parliamentary Opposition Leader to the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri.  Dr. Mahathir Mohamad asking for the invoking of Article 145 of the Constitution to establish a tribunal to remove Abu Talib as Attorney-General because of the “nation-wide loss of public confidence, credibility and even legitimacy as a result of his improper, unjustifiable and unlawful decision” to destroy the Vijandran videotapes and photographs.

Although Abu Talib had acquitted himself well in the Commission of Inquiry into the Anwar Ibrahim “black eye”, with the former Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Rahim Noor admitting that he was the “culprit” and that the “black eye” was not self-inflicted, it is very legitimate for Malaysians to ask whether Abu Talib can stop being a “policy implementor” and act independently to carry out statutory duties as Suhakam Chairman which can be a variance and even in  conflict with the existing human rights policy of the government.

For a start, is Abu Talib prepared to honour the Suhakam commitment made last week to conduct an inquiry into the detention of the six reformasi activists, Mohamad Ezam Mohamad Nor, Hishamuddin Rais, Chua Tian Chang, Saari Sungib, Badrulamin Bahron and Lokman Noor Adam, under the Internal Security Act and which was one reason for the six to end their  recent 11-day hunger strike?

Furthermore, is Abu Talib prepared to openly express his support for the Suhakam position that detention-without-trial  laws like the Internal Security Act constitutes a gross human rights violation and should be repealed or is he going to reverse the Suhakam position to support legislation like the ISA?


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman