KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 9 — The state of human rights in Malaysia has not significantly changed under Pakatan Harapan (PH), watchdog Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) said today.
Suaram adviser Kua Kia Soong said any government that choose to retain preventive detention laws could not be considered for a passing grade in the area of human rights.
“This is the most popular question every overview day, whether the record of Pakatan is better than Barisan Nasional (BN).
“I think to say that, there’s a very basic credential we have to consider. One of it is, is there detention without trial?
“Suaram exists because we were victims of detention without trial, and detention without trial is a very grave violation of the rule of law. And so as long as any government in this country — whether it is Barisan, Pakatan in the future, third force or whatever it is — still retains detention without trial, it will never ever get a pass mark for the human rights report,” he told reporters today at the launch of Suaram’s Human Rights Report 2019 Overview.
To be fair, however, Kua conceded that a country’s ranking on human rights must also be based on other factors.
He alluded to the difficulty in evaluating Malaysia’s current rights records, such as how to score the marginal reduction to six custodial deaths in 2019 (as of October) from eight in 2018.
Suaram programme manager Dobby Chew said it would be a “stretch” to say that human rights have improved under PH.
However, he said it at least did not backslide or continue BN’s trajectory of increasing restrictions.
“I think to call it an improvement is stretching the word a little, but it’s more of it managed to stagnate the decline before this.
“Because I think going into 2018, it was very clearly going downhill in a lot of ways, it’s not just in one area, every area has issues.
“Whereas right now we see some marginal improvements in some areas like Parliament – we don’t see it every day but that actually represents a lot of issues that are changing right now that gives us quite a lot of room to challenge the status quo. But are they on an improving trajectory? I don’t think so, I don’t think it’s close to that,” he said.
Chew said improvements would have to be more institutionalised and more widespread before Malaysia’s human rights conditions could be said to have improved.
“I think until the day we see IPCMC is passed, very committed commissioners sitting on IPCMC, I think then maybe we can start saying things are improving on selected fronts. But then the question always is going to be, is it improving say for the marginalised community, migrant workers, LGBT and refugees?” he said, referring to the proposed Bill to set up an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
“So until those things are across the board seeing greater improvement or steps to improve it, I think it’s very hard for us to say objectively it’s improved. Stagnating? Yeah sure. Maintaining status quo? Definitely. Declining? Definitely not anymore,” Chew added.
Earlier during the report’s launch, Chew had listed out multiple positive aspects of human rights conditions in Malaysia for 2019 such as lesser deaths in police custody, lower number of police shootings, lesser books being censored and parliamentary reforms, along with other aspects that need to be improved.
Suaram executive director Sevan Doraisamy said there were multiple ways to evaluate whether human rights under PH has as a whole improved, including such as whether the government’s engagement with civil society has improved.
Sevan highlighted that detention without trial continues to be practised in Malaysia despite the change of government in the 14th general elections in May 2018.
“But also when we work with detention without trial laws, the political arrests under Sosma (Security Offences (Special Measures) Act) was only three under the previous government. But in the current government, we have 12, so how you want to judge that?” he asked.
“And the previous government hold on to it, claiming Sosma is a good law. The current government has recognised Sosma has a draconian portion to it. When you know there is a draconian portion to it, and you are allowing it to be used, you are equally bad in practice.
“So Sosma should stop and then those who were arrested, especially the 12 be released. If the police keep on saying they have enough evidence, they should charge then, so the same practice as the previous government,” he said, when speaking of the 12 who were detained for alleged ties to the defunct Sri Lanka group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The trio were responding to a question on whether Suaram views PH as having improved in terms of human rights as compared to the previous administration.