Has Abu Talib imported the cult of secrecy into Suhakam making the second Suhakam  more opaque and secretive, less accountable and transparent than its predecessor?

Media Statement 
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Sunday): The new Suhakam Chairman, Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman, who  advised the government to make Malaysia’s  Official Secrets Act the most draconian in the civilized world by  providing for a  mandatory one-year jail sentence for any conviction however petty the offence, should explain whether he had imported the cult of secrecy into Suhakam making the second Suhakam more opaque and  secretive and  less accountable and transparent  than its predecessor. 

This is because there had been no news about Suhakam’s decisions and plans of action after its first meeting on Friday, apart from Abu Talib’s personal views and sentiments – very unlike the inaugural meeting of the first Suhakam under the chairmanship of Tan Sri Musa Hitam on April 24, 2000 which was followed by the  public announcement on the very same day that Suhakam had appointed four working groups to be responsible for Suhakam’s tasks and responsibilities and the Commissioners assigned to each group. 

The four working groups in the first Suhakam were:

 (i)              Education Working Group
                 Professor Chiam Heng Keng (Chairperson)
                    Tan Sri Simon Sipaun
                    Datuk Lee Lam Thye
                    Professor Mohd Hamdan Adnan

(ii)               Law Reform Working Group
Puan Mehrun Siraj (Chairperson)
                    Datuk K. Pathmanaban
                    Cik Zainah Anwar

(iii)             Treaties and International Instruments Working Group
Datuk Mahadev Shankar (Chairperson)
                    Datuk Dr. Salleh Mohd. Nor
                    Dr. Mohammad Hirman Ritom

(iv)            Complaints and Inquiries Working Group
                    Tan Sri Harun Mahmud Hashim (Chairperson)
                    Tan Sri Datuk Anuar Zainal Abidin (Deputy Chairperson)
                    Datuk Mahadev Shankar
                    Datuk Dr. Salleh Mohd Nor
                 Professor Mohd Hamdan Adnan
                    Puan Mehrun Siraj
                    Dr. Mohamad Hirman Ritom

The least the new Suhakam should have done after its first meeting on Friday was  to inform the Malaysian public of the new composition of the Suhakam working groups, bearing in mind the crisis of confidence afflicting Suhakam  as a resdult of  the axing of the most industrious, conscientious and committed Commissioners, in particular Anuar, Mehrun and Salleh which have also  done havoc to the functioning and efficacy of the  working groups. 

The Suhakam Complaints and Inquiries Working Group, which  was the target of the rage and greatest denigration by the government particularly because of its public inquiry and report on the Kesas Highway Incident on police abuses of power and human rights violations, has now been virtually crippled with the dropping from the new Suhakam of its three most active and committed members – Anuar, Mehrun and Salleh.  Harun, though appointed as Chairperson of the Working Group at the inaugural meeting of Suhakam on April 24, 2000, was not involved in any of the Suhakam inquiries after he assumed the position of Suhakam Deputy Chairman. 

Who are now on the Suhakam Complaints and Inquiries Working Group?  Will Hamdan be appointed its Chairperson to provide for continuity, especially as it has a mountain-load of outstanding complaints about human rights abuses and violations? 

Will the dropping of Anuar, Mehrun and Salleh because of their commitment and conscientious discharge of their statutory role to “protect” human rights be a warning  to the present batch of Suhakam Commissioners not to emulate their examples? 

To a great extent, the answers to these questions would be important  criteria in determining whether Suhakam is going to degenerate into a weak and compliant instrument of the government  or whether it will mature into a robust and dynamic protector of human rights as mandated by the Suhakam Act – unbeholden to the government. 

The leadership and  composition of the Law Reform Working Group is another matter of grave concern, as it is now left with only Zainah Anwar with the removal of Mehrun as Chairperson.  Can the government trust Zainah to take over the chair of this important Working Group, which has announced comprehensive plans to review the repressive laws in the country such as the Internal Security Act, the Official Secrets Act, the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Universities and University Colleges Act and the Police Act? 

Abu Talib should announce all the new membership of the Suhakam working groups and submit t them to public judgement. 


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman