AGC staff not miracle workers, Tommy Thomas tells civil groups pushing legal reforms

Suaram director Kua Kia Soong and Attorney General Tommy Thomas pose for pictures during the launch of the Suaram Human Rights Report 2018 in Kuala Lumpur May 28, 2019. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
Suaram director Kua Kia Soong and Attorney General Tommy Thomas pose for pictures during the launch of the Suaram Human Rights Report 2018 in Kuala Lumpur May 28, 2019. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

KUALA LUMPUR, May 28 — The Attorney General Chambers (AGC) cannot perform “miracles” in implementing legal reforms, Tommy Thomas said today following criticism from several civil societies over Malaysia’s recent withdrawal from ratifying two high-profile international treatises

The attorney general (AG) added that his department can only advise the government and that it is the Cabinet that ultimately decides what Malaysia should do.

“My job is to advice the government on legal matters. As far as I’m concerned there are no legal impediments to Malaysia joining or ratifying these conventions.

“But it is a political decision that was made by the Cabinet,” he told a news conference at the launch of non-government organisation Suara Rakyat Malaysia’s (Suaram) launch of its annual Human Rights Report 2018.

Thomas was responding to criticisms levelled against the AGC after the government withdrew from ratifiying the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and the signing of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“They should go and ask them why are they not implementing the manifesto,” he countered.

Thomas also said reform-minded civil societies should not be “complacent” and expect the new government or the AGC to just shoulder the burden of making institutional changes for better human rights safeguards.

“All of you have become complacent after May 9 general election and are expecting the government or the AG to perform miracles,” he said.

He urged them to continue to speak out as there were many issues that needed the public’s buy-in if they were to be successful.

He reminded the civil societies of an advantage present today under the Pakatan Harapan administration.

“The difference we make today compared to yesterday is that you have a ready audience and there is no climate of fear,” he said.

Thomas said the civil groups have four more years until the next general election and urged them to “catch” the politicians, such as Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo and Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran, who he said were lawyers by profession.

“Ask them why are they are delaying making reforms. Because all reforms come from the Cabinet.

“Civil societies will have to engage with the ministers and ask them what is their position,” he said.

Thomas added that it has to be acknowledged that there is more freedom in Malaysia in the last 13 months, which allows more space for engagement.

“We must always be optimistic. We made strides but that is not enough. There is still a lot of things to be done in the next four years.

“Whatever failures they might have at least they have a good track record,” said Thomas.