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SUARAM Calls for human rights-based reforms by all political parties in power

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suaram2007report.jpgIn conjunction with the launching of its 2007 Human Rights Report on Civil and Political Rights on 19 June, SUARAM has called on all political parties in power to initiate genuine human rights reforms in the systems and governance structure in line with the people’s wish as reflected in the March 8 General Elections.

SUARAM proposed a national action plan on human rights to identify ways to improve the human rights situation in the country.

SUARAM Calls for human rights-based reforms by all political parties in power

During the launch of its Malaysia Human Rights Report 2007 on Civil and Political Rights today, FORUM-ASIA member in Malaysia, SUARAM, , called on two winning political parties, the Barisan Nasional and the Pakatan Rakyat, to initiate genuine human rights based reforms in the political system and governance structure in order to correspond to the popular will of the people as reflected in the result of the March 2008 General Election.

SUARAM further called on the government to develop a national action plan on human rights to identify steps to improve human rights in the country, as was recommended in the United Nations World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993.

The recent General Election retained the Barisan Nasional as government at the federal level and in seven states while installing the opposition Pakatan Rakyat as government in five other states in total for the first time.

SUARAM said that the failure of institutions intended to safeguard human rights, compounded by the government’s lack of resolve to reform and its heightened attacks on human rights defenders amidst calls for political change and democratisation, have led to the deteriorating state of human rights in the country in 2007. This contributed to the total loss of confidence in the ruling parties and eventually led to the greatest electoral defeat of the ruling parties in history.

SUARAM, a leading human rights group in Malaysia, publishes its report annually, which documents human rights violations and the struggles to promote democracy and human rights in Malaysia.

During the launch of its report, SUARAM executive director Yap Swee Seng pointed out that one of the most notable events in 2007 was the revelation of the scandalous Lingam tape showing the fixing of appointments and promotion of judges, which has further jeopardised the independence of the judiciary. The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM)’s under-performance throughout the year was also apparent, marked most notably by its failure to conduct a public inquiry into the case of police shooting in Batu Buruk, Terengganu.

Compounding to this, the government has shown little interest in improving the state of human rights in the country despite the many pledges and promises made.

“In many areas, the government has failed to make positive changes where improvements could have been made,” said Yap Swee Seng, the Executive Director of SUARAM, pointing out that some of the most crucial recommendations made by the Royal Police Commission still have not been implemented. These include most notably the recommendation to set up the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC), which is already two years past its deadline for implementation.

In 2007, while the country celebrated its 50th anniversary of its independence, outdated laws inherited from the colonial British, like the Internal Security Act (ISA), were still being used. According to SUARAM, at the end of 2007, a total of 70 detainees were still being detained under the ISA, with 10 being detained for over 6 years. At the end of the year, some 2,000 individuals remain incarcerated under the three preventive laws – the ISA, the Emergency Ordinance (EO) and the Dangerous Drugs Act (DDA) – without being put to trial.

The government’s total lack of resolve to reform and respect human rights and principles of democracy, despite numerous pledges and rhetoric, have led to a culture of impunity, SUARAM noted. “While human rights violators get away scot-free, violations against human rights get more and more serious by the day,” Yap said.

The seriousness of violations was exemplified by the unprecedented police shootings during a ceramah in Batu Buruk, Terengganu. “Despite the seriousness of the violation committed by the police in Batu Buruk, not a single policeman was brought to justice,” Yap said.

Yap also pointed out that old trends continued to persist, such as the high number of deaths in police custody. SUARAM documented an alarmingly high number of eleven deaths in police custody in 2007.

According to Yap, “Another worrying trend is the marked deterioration of fundamental freedoms in the country. This was most apparent in the government’s clampdown on freedom of speech and expression and freedom of assembly.”

Calls for political change grew when it became clear to Malaysians that the government had little interest in improving the human rights situation and adhering to principles of democracy. The government responded to the groundswell of demands for political change and democratisation, by targeting human rights defenders.

“There was an all-out attempt by the government to persecute and prosecute activists at the forefront of advocacy for democratisation throughout the year. The government, for example, went on a campaign to demonise organisers of demonstrations and activists advocating the rights of the Indian ethnic minority group; and pressed trumped-up charges against a number of them,” Yap said.

“Even whistle-blowers were targeted for persecution, as was seen in the instances of the revelation of the Lingam tape and documents relating to an agreement between the government and a toll concessionaire,” he added.

Having already noted that the institutions intended to protect human rights have failed to deliver, the role of human rights defenders have become increasingly important. The unprecedented results in the March 2008 General Election, where the Pakatan Rakyat managed deny the Barisan Nasional’s two-third majority and control five states, have clearly demonstrated that human rights activists and watchdogs like SUARAM have an even more significant role to play. Where the Pakatan Rakyat has formed state governments, the role of watchdog cannot be left to the Barisan Nasional, given its 50 years of abysmal record as the government.

For further enquiries, please contact SUARAM executive director Yap Swee Seng at +603 7784 3525 / 7783 5724 or at [email protected].