THE sight of Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz and Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang sitting side by side and agreeing with each other at press conferences is quite unusual.
After all, the two are more known as sparring partners in the Dewan Rakyat who would jump at each other at the slightest provocation.
Yet, cordiality between the two now seems to be the norm rather than trading of insults.
The reason for this rare development is the Human Rights Caucus.
Formed last year, the loose parliamentary group comprises 19 MPs from Barisan Nasional and opposition who take up human rights issues.
Nazri is its chairman and Lim his deputy.
Among Barisan members of the caucus are Pontian MP Hasni Mohamed, Kota Baru MP Datuk Zaid Ibrahim and Padang Serai MP Lim Bee Kau, while opposition members include Bukit Mertajam MP Chong Eng, PAS secretary-general Datuk Kamaruddin Jaafar and Keadilan president Datin Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.
Hasni, Kamaruddin and Wan Azizah are vice-chairmen of the caucus and Chong the secretary.
What is surprising is that this unusual alliance has suddenly attained a very high profile, and by virtue of that, become a force to be reckoned with especially in the past week.
It has enjoyed intense media play-up for issues that have come before it, and has somewhat moved the focus of journalists from inside the Dewan to the lobby of Parliament House.
A lot of it is, of course, due to the types of cases that are coming before the caucus, which ranged from Chinese women alleging wrongful treatment by police while in custody, to students complaining about rigged campus elections and mistreatment by university officials.
But the most important factor is probably the fact that Nazri is a member of the Cabinet, thus giving the caucus direct access to the country’s highest decision-making body.
And he has not been shy about using this advantage, promising openly to bring complaints all the way to the Cabinet.
Although he will always tell those seeking his help that he was dealing with them in his capacity as caucus chairman, he will nevertheless add, as he did to a group of students who met the caucus last Thursday: “Rest assured that the stand I make here will be the same in any other forum in which this matter is brought up, including Cabinet.”
To his credit, he has managed to get the Cabinet to react, such as in the case of the 18-year-old girl being sued by a policeman against whom she had lodged a complaint with the ACA for taking a bribe.
When a journalist pointed out that the caucus seems to be able to move things faster than the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) or the Public Complaints Bureau, Nazri merely said: “Parliament is the house of the people and we want the people to come here if they have problems.”
Obviously relishing the publicity, Nazri smiled when he was told that he was getting more media coverage now than when he was Entrepreneur Development Minister.
The caucus has also provided the DAP the sort of “airing” it had been seeking for a long time.
Through DAP’s Seputeh MP Teresa Kok, the caucus became involved in the exposing of the video recording which showed a naked woman being made to do ear-squats at the Petaling Jaya district police headquarters.
Kok, a caucus member who has been handling the case of the four Chinese women, chose to make the clip public last Thursday by showing it to ministers, MPs and the media.
Nazri, giving his full support to Kok, immediately stated that the clips proved that the allegations of mistreatment by the police which were made by the women were true.
Whether the caucus will be able to maintain the high profile it is enjoying now and use it to effectively solve cases and promote human rights in general, only time will tell.
In the meantime, the people seem happy enough to go home with Nazri’s assurance that their grievance will be raised face-to-face with the relevant ministers, or in Cabinet, if necessary.