2016 year starter: Balancing security and freedom

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  • Friday, 01 Jan 2016

New Year tradition: Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria leading judges in a march in front of the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya to mark the opening of the legal year.

Azmi is fearful of a greater erosion of our rights. — Photos: The Star

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a declaration that encompasses all aspects of human rights that Malaysia, as a member of the United Nations, is obliged to uphold. 

“The Government and rakyat have set us an ambitious agenda to achieve developed nation status by 2020,” he says, adding that Malaysia will also be evaluated by higher standards of human rights when that goal is reached.
“All human rights needs must therefore be placed at the heart of national development, because it is clear that human rights and development are interdependent and mutually reinforcing,” says Hasmy.

Bar Council Constitutional Law Committee co-chair Firdaus Husni foresees the Federal Court taking a more conservative stance in how it approaches these changes.

“It already is conservative, and I do not see that changing next year,” she says.

Suhakam is extremely concerned about the “hasty and unexpected” tabling and passing of the National Security Council Bill in December.
“The concern is that preventive detention, terrorism and security laws are being misused to suppress political expression and dissent,” says Hasmy.
Sosma is also a cause of concern for Suhakam.

“We are extremely concerned by the broad characterisation of ‘security offences’ under the Act,” says Hasmy.

He says the Act’s scope extends beyond terrorism offences, contradicting the Prime Minister’s guarantee in 2011 “that no individual will be arrested merely on the point of political ideology”.

Former Umno leader Datuk Seri Khairuddin Abu Hassan and lawyer Matthias Chang were detained under Sosma for allegedly sabotaging the Malaysian economy.
Suhakam also speaks out against the Sedition Act, calling for the Government to abolish the archaic Act. 

Another troubling development last year was the discovery of mass migrant graves in the country. 

Hasmy says human rights must develop alongside economic growth.

Despite comprehensive legislation to combat human trafficking in Malaysia, Hasmy says that cases of human trafficking and migrant smuggling are on the rise.
“The Commission has proposed the Government improve its bilateral efforts with the countries of origin of the unfortunate victims, as well as regional efforts with a view to improving cooperation to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons.

“Furthermore, where enforcement or public officials and private individuals are suspected of being implicated in trafficking, they must be immediately investigated, tried and, if found guilty, appropriately punished,” he says.
“Regrettably, we do not hear of many cases being brought to Court,” adds Hasmy.

A regional refugee crisis erupted in May 2015 when thousands of people from Myanmar and Bangladesh were stranded in rickety boats, pushed back from safety on Malaysian shores, trafficked into forced labour, or killed at sea. 

“Those Asean member states who have yet not done so should also begin the process of ratifying the 1951 Refugee Convention,” says Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s Interim Director for the South-East Asia and Pacific regional office.

Human rights NGO Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) applauds the Malaysian Government’s decision to vote in favour of the United Nations general assembly resolution on the protection of human rights defenders.

“If the Government of Malaysia fails to honour the obligations it has undertaken by voting in affir-mation, there would undoubtedly be severe repercussions and it would jeopardise the time dedicated by the Prime Minister to improving Malaysia’s international standing,” says Sevan Doraisamy, Suaram’s executive director.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Paul Low thinks the Government has no problem being criticised and is open to pushing the agenda of human rights.

“It is a process and the issue is not only the laws but how we execute the laws in a fair manner and non-selective manner.
“We are still grappling with moving towards a society that is much more engaging,” he says.

“Concerning the limitations of the law, we need to take into context the circumstances under which they were made. We can’t just take it just like that. 
“But anyway, the best thing is that some of those issues are in court. Let the courts decide. There is due process there,” says Low.

In the year ahead, Suhakam will be guided by its Five-Year Strategic Plan (2012-2016) and its vision for “a society in which human rights are fully respected and protected and enjoyed by all”.

“The commission hopes to look closely into the human rights implications of the Sustainable Development Goals as well as to follow up closely on its National Inquiry into the Land Rights of Indigenous in Malaysia,” says Hasmy.

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