Human rights in Malaysia still ‘patchy’

Source: AsiaOne

SUHAKAM Chairman Tan Sri Hasmy Agam (right) - pic by NSTP/Rosela Ismail
SUHAKAM Chairman Tan Sri Hasmy Agam (right) and Vice-Chairman Datuk Dr Khaw Lake Tee (in background) – pic by NSTP/Rosela Ismail

ASK Suhakam chairman Tan Sri Hasmy Agam about the state of human rights in Malaysia and he will say it is “patchy and not uniform”.

“My concern is whether human rights is a high priority to the Government,” says Hasmy, whose second term as chairman ends tomorrow at midnight.

Leaving also are vice-chairman Datuk Dr Khaw Lake Tee and commissioners Prof Emeritus Datuk Dr Mahmood Zuhdi Ab Majid and James Nayagam.

Unlike them, commissioners Prof Datuk Dr Aishah Bidin, Francis Johen and Sylvester @ Nordin Kasim are eligible to serve another term if re-appointed because they have completed just one term so far.

In an exclusive interview, Hasmy tells Sunday Star that: “Preventive detention, terrorism and security laws are being misused to suppress political expression and dissent.”

Citing the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act, he says the broad characterisation of “security offences” under the Act shows that its ambit extends beyond terrorism offences.

He says it contradicts the Prime Minister’s guarantee in 2011 that “no individual will be arrested merely on the point of political ideology”.

“While preventive detention laws were re-enacted to address terrorism concerns their use must be proportionate to the challenges faced, after having sufficient and reliable evidence of an imminent terrorist attack.

“We urge the Government to promote and implement the provisions of all such laws effectively and in good faith,” he says.

And despite comprehensive legislation to combat human trafficking, Hasmy points out that cases of human trafficking and migrant smuggling are on the rise.

As for the Sedition Act, although societal issues such as racism and intolerance have grown, Hasmy says it has to go and that correct government policies to integrate the different races must instead be implemented to alleviate this problem.

While everyone is entitled to their opinion, he says it is regrettable that some groups fail to understand that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights encompasses all aspects of human rights that Malaysia is obliged to uphold.

“We’ve been pushing very hard from the time of Tun Musa Hitam (2000-2002), the first Suhakam chair, Tan Sri Abu Talib (Othman, 2002-2010) who came after him, and me.

“Two years ago, an NGO in Penang was not happy with me and asked the Government to sack me. They said by pushing for this, I was oblivious to the fact that Malaysia, as a Muslim-majority country, can’t afford to pursue certain rights which they say are inconsistent with Islam when I was merely repeating what my predecessors have said,” he says.

Hasmy says they have engaged several times with the Islamic community – Islamic Affairs minister, Department of Islamic Development (Jakim), Islamic Syariah Judiciary Department, Selangor Syariah Judiciary Department (Jakess) and Syarie Lawyers Association.

“The conversation is good. They’re still reticent but we have opened the door.

“We’re trying to hold watching briefs in the syariah courts, in cases involving women, the unilateral conversion of children and transgender people.

This has never been done in syariah courts.

“While it is a practice in civil courts to have amicus curiae, some syariah judges we met have said that syariah courts must only listen to the two disputing parties.

“But Selangor Syariah Chief Judge Datuk Dr Mohd Na’im (Mokhtar) says differently; he says judges are supposed listen to all the views, and of scholars, not just of the disputants.

He said that Suhakam is also an expert and if it has a pertinent view, there is no harm to listen because the judge decides later on its relevance,” says Hasmy.



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