Abu Talib should adhere to the earlier Suhakam decision  that detention-without-trial ISA is “a fundamental human rights violation” unless he could get two-thirds of Suhakam Commissioners to rescind it  or he should step down as Suhakam Chairman on such an important point of principle

Media Statement 
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Monday): The new Suhakam Chairman, Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman, has been making wishy-washy statements about the Internal Security Act since taking up his appointment last Wednesday. 

When  asked about his position on the Internal Security Act after chairing the first Suhakam meeting on Friday, Abu Talib said there were two aspects to the matter – the legality/validity of the ISA as opposed to the principle of detention without trial. 

He said: “We will look at it very closely. It is the function of Suhakam to look at all the laws and make our recommendations, and if the Government thinks fit, it can accept or otherwise.” 

He said  the commission only discussed the ISA briefly at the meeting and many views were expressed. 

In an interview with Berita Minggu yesterday, Abu Talib pointedly avoided stating a position on the ISA, and when asked his views on the call by the first Suhakam to review the ISA, he gave another wishy-washy reply, saying: “Saya perlu membaca laporan itu, beri saya peluang untuk membacanya terlebih dulu.” 

Suhakam, under the chairmanship of Tan Sri Musa Hitam, had taken the position that the Internal Security Act is “a fundamental  human rights violation” with its  detention-without-trial provisions. 

Abu Talib should adhere to the earlier Suhakam decision  that detention-without-trial ISA is a “fundamental  human rights violation”  unless he can  get two-thirds of Suhakam Commissioners to rescind it  or he should step down as Suhakam Chairman on such an important point of principle. 

Section 7 (4) of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act  1999 provides that members of the Commission “shall use their best endeavours to arrive at all decisions of the meeting by consensus failing which the decision by a two-thirds majority of the members present shall be required”. 

Suhakam made a public statement on April 11, 2001 expressing "deep regrets" over the detention under the Internal Security Act  of seven reformasi activists – and the six who are still in detention after more than a year  are Mohamad Ezam Mohamad Nor, Hishamuddin Rais, Chua Tian Chang, Saari Sungib, Badrulamin Bahron and Lokman Noor Adam. 

In a statement after a special meeting following the arrests, Suhakam said that the arrests under the Internal Security Act, which allows indefinite detention without trial, violated fundamental human rights and called for their immediate release. It said that if the detainees had committed any offence, they should be charged and  tried in an open court. 

In the statement, Suhakam said there were initially signals that the government was "slowly  but surely being sensitized to human rights issues and is taking concrete  steps to ensure that its concern for human rights is translated into action."  It said the formation of Suhakam a  year earlier was proof of the trend, adding that it was against this backdrop that it “expressed deep concern over the present arrests”. 

Although there is nothing in the Human Rights Commission Act 1999 to prevent Suhakam from reversing its earlier decisions, new Suhakam commissioners, including the  new Suhakam Chairman, should respect and abide by previous Suhakam decisions unless they are reversed subsequently in formal decisions by two-third majority of the Commissioners. 

Even if Abu Talib personally supports the ISA, he is bound by the Suhakam decision of 11th April 2001 that the ISA is a “fundamental human rights violation” unless he can get a two-third majority support to reverse the April 11, 2001 decision – i.e. at least nine votes in the 13-member Suhakam. 

Will all the five new commissioners appointed to Suhakam – four former civil servants and one current civil servant – all support the reversal of Suhakam’s “411” decision?  Out of the seven second-term Commissioners, will they all now repudiate their decision last year that the ISA is a “fundamental human rights violation”? 

Be that as it may, until and unless Abu Talib can get the new Suhakam to formally, through two-thirds majority vote, to rescind the Suhakam decision of April 11, 2001 that the ISA is a “fundamental human rights violation”, he must adhere to it or resign as Suhakam Chairman. 

Similarly, Abu Talib must respect and adhere to and implement without any delay  another Suhakam decision made earlier this month – the holding of a public inquiry into the ISA detention of the  reformasi six currently serving their term at the Kamunting detention center. 


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman