Foreign Minister, Syed Hamid Albar should explain why Malaysia sided with the the US Bush Administration by not voting for the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture in the General Assembly

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Monday): Foreign Minister, Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar should explain why Malaysia sided with the United States Bush Administration by not voting for a new anti-torture treaty, the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel or Unusual Treatments, in the General Assembly last Wednesday (18th December 2002).

The Optional Protocol was adopted by an overwhelming majority of 127 in favour, 4 against, and 42 abstentions.

The Protocol will allow independent international and national experts to conduct regular visits to places of detention within States Parties. The aim of these visits will be to assess the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty and their conditions of detention and make concrete recommendations for improvement. States Parties will be required to co-operate with the visiting mechanisms and to take steps to implement their recommendations.

The Protocol represents an innovative approach within the UN human rights system by focusing upon preventive rather than retroactive measures. It also establishes, for the first time in an international human rights instrument, a complementary inter-relationship between preventive efforts at the international and national level.

The United States was the lead opponent of the Protocol, voting against it together with Nigeria, Palau and Marshall Islands. However, 18 countries were not present at all for the vote, including Iraq, Iran and North Korea - the three members of President George W Bush's so-called axis of evil.

Malaysia's abstention in the vote with 41 other countries is doubly shameful firstly, as three other Southeast Asian countries, viz. Indonesia, Cambodia and East Timor, voted for it; and secondly Israel, which had originally voted against the protocol in a meeting on November 8, voted for it this time around.

Although Malaysia abstained while US voted against the Protocol, Malaysia's abstention is supportive of the US opposition on this important and innovative human rights measure.

Malaysia's failure to vote for the Protocol is a blot on the human rights record of the country on the international stage. Although the Protocol had been 10 years in the making, Malaysia should have given serious consideration to support its passage by voting for it in order to demonstrate the country's sensitivity and awareness that in crisis situations as in the post-September 11 world, the rights of people deprived of their liberty are the first to deteriorate and the greater need for a new international mechanism under the protocol to safeguard the human rights of all persons deprived of their liberty.

As the Optional Protocol has received cross-regional support from a majority of States and is designed to assist rather than condemn States, DAP calls on the Malaysian Government to take a policy decision to ratify the Optional Protocol when it opens for signature from 1 January 2003. The Protocol will enter into force upon the 20th ratification.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman