Suhakam Annual Report 2002 lacks full accountability, transparency and comprehensiveness in keeping with its statutory responsibility to protect and promote human rights

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang,  Monday): Last Thursday, I had commended Suhakam and in particular its Law Reform Working Group chaired by former Court of Appeal Judge, Datuk K. C. Vohrah, for the report on the "Review of the Internal Security Act 1960" and its two primary proposals, viz:

  • Repeal of Internal Security Act (ISA) and replacement by a human rights-sensitive national security law which strikes a proper balance between threats to national security (including terrorism) and international human rights principles; and

  • Interim reforms to address the two fundamental objections to the ISA - infringement of the principles of human rights and abuse in the application of the ISA.

What surprised me was the tabling of the Suhakam Annual Report 2003 in Parliament on the same day as the publication of its report on ISA Review last Wednesday, resulting in the virtual overshadowing of the former by the latter, creating the general confusion that both reports are one and the same. As a result, the Suhakam Annual Report 2003 failed to get the detailed public examination, scrutiny and discussion which it would have been subjected to if it had been released without clashing with the Suhakam report on ISA review.

I do not believe that this was deliberately done to downplay the Suhakam Annual Report 2003 but purely out of poor P.R. understanding of the elementary rule that Suhakam should not release two important reports on the same day and compete with itself for scarce publicity space, whether printed or electronic, which is important and essential if Suhakam is to get greater public support for its work to protect and promote human rights.

After study, I find the Suhakam Annual Report 2002 lacks the full accountability, transparency and comprehensiveness that one would expect if it hews closely to its statutory responsibility to protect and promote human rights as provided by its enabling legislation.

For instance, the report complained about the lack of response from the government to its various reports on major issues that touch on fundamental liberties, such as the National Human Rights Plan of Action submitted on 25th February 2002.

However, in the past 14 months, the Malaysian public have been kept completely in the dark about the Suhakam's proposed National Human Rights Plan of Action - which does not speak highly of its commitment to accountability and transparency. Suhakam should always be mindful that apart from advising the government on human rights, it has a higher national duty to the 23 million Malaysians to protect and promote human rights, which is why it should have made public the National Human Rights Plan of Action.

Last May, I raised the question as to whether it was true that the reason why Datuk Dr. Salleh Mohd Nor was axed as Suhakam commissioner and not reappointed although he was one of the three most industrious, conscientious and committed Suhakam Commissioners in the first two-year term, was because the Sarawak state government strongly objected to the Suhakam inquiry into Sarawak Native Customary Rights (NCR) land controversy which Salleh headed and the draft report of the inquiry which was being drastically watered down causing delay in its release.

In December 2001, the then Deputy Chairman of the Suhakam Complaints and Inquiries Working Group, Tan Sri Anuar Zainal Abidin had announced in Kuching that a comprehensive report on a Suhakam fact-finding mission following memoranda of complaints by Sarawak natives affected by the Bakun dam project and native customary rights land (NCR) conflicts was expected to be ready in February 2002 after hearing and receiving representation from the natives and the government authorities.

He said that the draft report would also be forwarded to the Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud once it was completed.

Among the complaints lodged with Suhakam and were the subject of investigations by the Suhakam fact finding mission headed by Salleh were the resettlement of nearly 1,000 people to Sungai Asap due to the Bakun dam project; the problems faced by Penans relating to logging companies encroaching into their NCR land resulting in pollution of water supply and loss of food sources and hunting grounds left uncompensated; the problems of the Ibans in Ulu Niah in their conflicts with oil palm companies, etc.

A week after my query, Suhakam Commissioner Prof Chiam Heng Keng, who was a member of the NCR Inquiry, said the Suhakam NCR report was being finalized and could be released as "early as next week", i.e. early June 2002.

I raised the subject with the new Suhakam Chairman, Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman when I met him on 13th June 2002, who informed me that he was going through the draft report.

I had looked in the Suhakam Annual Report 2002 for its inquiry report into the NCR land issue, as the draft report of the Salleh committee had been given approval in principle by the previous Suhakam Board headed by Tan Sri Musa Hitam before the expiry of its two-year appointment in April last year.

The 2001 Suhakam Annual Report made reference to the Salleh fact-finding mission, concluding with the promise of publication of its report: "SUHAKAM planned to meet with the Chief Minsiter of Sarawak in early 2002 before finalizing its report on the Native Customary Rights (NCR) land issue." (p. 33).

The 2002 Suhakam Annual Report, however, omitted all reference to the Suhakam NCR land fact-finding mission and the long-delayed Suhakam report on the NCR land issue. Has the Salleh report on the NRC land issue been suppressed by Suhakam on the pressures of the Sarawak state government - and if so, this will the first case of gross human rights violation happening within the four walls of Suhakam itself!

Today is "Black April 14", a day of infamy for Malaysia as it stands for injustice and oppression symbolized by the wrongful and unfair incarceration of former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and the reformasi activists, Mohamad Ezam Mohd Nor, Tian Chua, Saari Sungib, Lokman Noor Adam, Dr Badrul Amin and Hishamuddin Rais.

The United States Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Malaysia 2002 which was released ten days before the Suhakam Annual Report 2002 maintained that Anwar and the reformasi activists are political prisoners, that Anwar was "charged, tried, and convicted in a legal process that was politically motivated and patently unfair".
But there was not a single reference to Anwar Ibrahim in the Suhakam Annual Report 2002 although Anwar was undoubtedly the most high-profile case of human rights violation in the country for last year - proof of the lack of comprehensiveness of the Suhakam annual report.

There are many other blemishes in the Suhakam Annual Report 2002 which must be dissected, scrutinised and debated, not to run down Suhakam but to make it a more effective and meaningful human rights commission to discharge its statutory mandate to protect and promote human rights in Malaysia.

DAP leaders propose to ask for a meeting with the Suhakam Chairman and commissioners to discuss the Suhakam Annual Report 2002 for it is the responsibility of every Malaysian individual, organization and political party to improve on the performance, effectiveness and credibility of Suhakam as the statutory organization to protect and promote human rights in Malaysia.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman