In naming Saudi Arabia and Sudan as models of safe and peaceful societies because of the implementation of syariah criminal laws, is Hadi seriously suggesting Malaysia move from the present “half-light” to the full darkness of the human rights wastelands of these two countries

Media Statement 
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Friday): When introducing the Terengganu Syariah Criminal Offence (Hudud and Qisas) Bill in the Terengganu State Assembly on Sunday, the PAS Terengganu Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang mentioned Saudi Arabia and Sudan as countries with safe and peaceful societies because of the implementation of the syariah criminal laws. 

I have found it a most shocking experience in the past few days reading up on the state of human rights and the justice systems in these two countries, and I must seriously ask Hadi whether he is seriously suggesting that Malaysia emulate these countries which are among the world’s wastelands with regard to respect for human rights and fair criminal justice systems? 

All the necessary information about the deplorable state of human rights and the justice systems “without justice” in Saudi Arabia and Sudan are easily available on the Internet, whether from various international and regional human rights organizations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch or even from the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices issued by the United States Department of State. 

Malaysian NGOs and the civil society have been waging a courageous, sustained but uphill battle to protect and promote human rights, particularly in the past one year when the cause of human rights and democracy suffered a major setback in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, but if Malaysia is reduced to the level of Saudi Arabia and Sudan, Malaysians will be plunged from the present half-light of human rights, justice, freedom and democracy into the full darkness of the night! 

The following extracts from the last two annual reports of Human Rights Watch on Saudi Arabia give a bleak and even frightening picture of the human rights wasteland in the country:

“Freedom of expression and association were nonexistent rights, political parties and independent local media were not permitted, and even peaceful anti-government activities remained virtually unthinkable. Infringements on privacy, institutionalized gender discrimination, harsh restrictions on the exercise of religious freedom, and the use of capital and corporal punishment were also major features of the kingdom's human rights record.”

The Human Rights Watch Report 2001 reported that a Saudi Arabian court ordered the surgical removal of the left eye of an Egyptian after he was convicted of throwing acid in the face of another Egyptian, injuring and disfiguring his left eye.

The report said that “the inherent cruelty of such sentences was heightened by due process concerns about the fairness of legal and administrative procedures”, where the 1983 Principles of Arrest, Temporary Confinement, and Preventative Regulations facilitate human rights violations, including prolonged incommunicado detention, inadequate safeguards against torture and ill treatment of prisoners during interrogation, denial of access to lawyers, and the lack of transparency of legal proceedings and practices at odds with the government's claim  that "in the Islamic shariah, presumption of innocence is the fundamental principle in criminal proceedings."

The Human Rights Watch Report 2002 stated that workers, including millions of foreigners, were not permitted to form trade unions, strike or engage in collective bargaining.  The kingdom also remained off-limits to international human rights organizations, and no one inside the country dared to break the long-standing taboo on openly scrutinizing and reporting human rights abuses.

Despite the Saudi Arabian government's highly publicized ratification in 2000 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, there were no initiatives to give Saudi women equal rights with men. Women were not permitted identity cards in their own name, only "family cards" in the name of their husband or father, did not enjoy freedom of movement, were not permitted to drive, and lacked equal rights with men with respect to the nationality of their children, among other discriminatory practices.

On “Defending Human Rights”, the report said:

“Saudi Arabia remained one of the region's embarrassing wastelands with respect to an openly functioning network of independent human rights lawyers, other activists, and institutions. As a result, victims of abuse and their supporters were left isolated and vulnerable, and the timely documentation of rights violations was exceedingly difficult. International human rights organizations were not granted access during the year, and foreign journalists based in the country rarely investigated and reported allegations of abuse.”

If the deplorable state of human rights and the “justice system without justice” in Saudi Arabia is atrocious, that of Sudan is just horrendous!

The Human Rights Watch Report 2001 stated that “the government of Sudan remained a gross human rights abuser, while rebel groups committed their share of violations”.

Only at the end of last month, Amnesty International condemned the sharp increase in executions and the use of the death sentence as punishment in various parts of Sudan – which implements syariah with penalties which  include limb amputation, death and death followed by crucifixion.

The Amnesty International Report 2002 on Sudan opened with this sombre introduction:

“Unarmed civilians continued to be killed in the 18-year conflict between government and allied forces and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and other armed opposition groups, many as a result of indiscriminate bombing or direct attack by government forces and allied militias. Human rights abuses in war zones were committed with impunity by all parties to the conflict, including summary and arbitrary executions, torture, abductions and sexual violence against women and forcible recruitment of children into fighting forces. Tens of thousands were displaced and faced starvation, with relief supplies disrupted by insecurity.”

The atrocities in Sudan documented by AI include the following two paragraphs from a long  account of human rights violations  in the report: “Sudan: Oil in Sudan: Deteriorating human rights” (May 2000) which estimated that almost two million people out of a population of 30 million  had been killed since 1983:

“Tens of thousands of people have been terrorized into leaving their homes in Western Upper Nile since early 1999. Government forces have used ground attacks, helicopter gunship and indiscriminate high-altitude bombardment to clear the local population from oil-rich areas. This massive displacement of the local population followed the deployment of additional weaponry and forces specifically drafted in to protect the oilfields. The military tactics of the government's security forces of destroying harvests, looting livestock and occupying the area is designed to prevent the return of the displaced population.

”There have been reports that government troops cleared the area around the town of Bentiu using helicopter gunships, some allegedly piloted by Iraqi soldiers, and aerial cluster bombardment by high-altitude Antonov planes. In addition to the air attacks, government troops on the ground reportedly drove people out of their homes by committing gross human rights violations; male villagers were killed in mass executions; women and children were nailed to trees with iron spikes. There were reports from some villages, north and south of Bentiu, such as Guk and Rik, that soldiers slit the throats of children and killed male prisoners who had been interrogated by hammering nails into their foreheads. In Panyejier last July, people had been crushed by tanks and strafed by helicopter gunship.”

Hadi and the PAS leaders should check and verify whether the deplorable state of human rights and the “justice system without justice” in Saudi Arabia and Sudan as described in the generality of all human rights reports on these two countries are right, and if so, why are they advocating that Malaysia move from the present “half-light” to the full darkness of the human rights wastelands of these two countries.  The other Barisan Alternative parties, namely Parti Keadilan Nasional and Parti Rakyat Malaysia, cannot keep their silence on issues of such vast and far-reaching consequences.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman