Much is expected of the current Suhakam commissioners. Will they be bold defenders of human rights in Malaysia?
WHEN the new list of commissioners for the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) was announced, I was quietly optimistic.
In the line-up are a few individuals who have a good record in defending human rights and this is a good thing.
With its funding slashed, Suhakam now depends on the vitality of its commissioners more than ever.
The new chairman, Tan Sri Razali Ismail, a former diplomat, was a fairly inoffensive choice.
Diplomats being diplomats, they are really hard to pin down, smoothly shifting gears to whatever is required in the name of diplomacy.
They tend to do that even when no longer in the diplomatic corps. I suppose decades as a professional smooth talker can have that effect.
That being said, the last head of Suhakam, Tan Sri Hasmy Agam, was also a diplomat and although he had started his job rather timidly, in my opinion he grew into the role, absorbing the values and then defending human rights to a level that I had not expected.
Now it would appear that the new head has a lot of growing into the role to do, too.
The chairperson’s seat is not even warm yet and already Razali has displayed a lack of understanding, not only of what human rights entail, but also the situation in the country.
His statement in last week’s Sunday Star that Bersih 2.0 has to find “more sophisticated” methods to make their point rather than organising street protests, was disappointing to say the least.
He says such protests “damage a lot of property and all that”.
Granted that he conceded to the point that to demonstrate is a human right, but this is tempered by him saying that the authorities have to “weigh all the parties’ interests”.
I take issue with his points.
First, what on earth does he mean by “more sophisticated methods”?
Shall we write memorandum after memorandum and hand them to the Government, hoping and praying that it will read the memoranda and take them seriously?
What about politely worded e-mails to our MPs, asking them to do something in Parliament?
I suppose we can wait for the next general election or write passionate letters to the editor.
When has any of these things worked?
Even a petition with a million signatories can be denigrated and brushed aside.
So, just what other avenues do we the people have?
You see, Razali may have lots of charm (as he implies in the interview) with which to cajole recalcitrant government types, but those of us without bespoke suits and the standing of the new Suhakam chair will probably find it difficult to get anywhere close to those who stalk the corridors of power.
And has Razali ever been to any of these so-called destructive protests?
There has been damage in the past, true, but the level of damage is miniscule compared to the number of participants.
If tens of thousands of people want to cause damage, then by golly, you’ll see real damage.
But this is not the case and in the last Bersih rally, which lasted one and a half days and not three as Razali said, there were teams of volunteers picking up the trash left behind.
Oh, and may I just point out that what the Government deems as “in the best interest” can be warped at times.
For example, the Inspector-General of Police said Bersih could organise a protest as long as it didn’t call for the leaders to step down.
How many times must it be said? The top government leaders can be dismissed from their jobs.
It needs a vote of no confidence in a legislative body.
There is nothing unconstitutional or undemocratic about a head of government being forced to step down.
So if people want this, as long as they are not suggesting the removal be done in any way unlawful, like a military coup or elimination by a game show, then it is perfectly within their rights to do so.
You see, saudara Razali, the government agencies and their heads who determine “best interest” really are not able to do so.
Instead of giving the excuses that have been used to shut down dissent, the head of Suhakam has to defend our human and constitutional rights to the nth degree.
And Lord knows we need them now.
We are fed up with financial misdeeds and mismanagement, and if we want to show our frustration, the only real avenue is to gather peacefully and in huge numbers.
It doesn’t matter if Suhakam will continue to charmingly try to convince the Malaysian Government to sign more international treaties.
All that comes to nought if the commission can’t even be bold enough to stand up for the rights of the people of Malaysia now.
Azmi Sharom (email@example.com) is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.
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