Over the past 25 years, HAKAM has been active in championing human rights, publishing press statements, holding forums and engaging stakeholders to make Malaysia a better place to live in. While we cannot possibly cover all that has been done, it is important to appreciate the key milestones HAKAM has reached in its journey so far. A sampling of the milestones are set out below:
- Mooting for Orang Asli Land Rights (1995)
- Creating Awareness on the Effects of Corruption (1995)
- Police Shooting Condemnations (1998)
- Regional ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism Dialogue (1998-1999)
- Publication of “Human Rights and the National Commission” (1999)
- ASEAN Mechanism leading to SUHAKAM’s Formation (1999)
- Orang Asli Rights to Education (1999-2003)
- Campaign to Abolish ISA (2000)
- Critique of SUHAKAM (2000)
- The 100-Day Boycott of SUHAKAM (2002)
- Defending Freedom of Expression in the Arts (2003)
- Festival of Rights (2005)
- National Interfaith Commission Participation (2005)
- Article 11 Roadshows (2006)
- Standing Up to Moral Policing (2006-2007)
- SABM-HAKAM Dialogue on the Social Inclusion Act (2012)
- Effort to Abolish the Death Penalty (2013 – 2014)
MOOTING FOR ORANG ASLI LAND RIGHTS (1995)
The judgment of the Court of Appeal in the case of Sagong Tasi and 6 Ors v Kerajaan Negeri Selangor and 3 Ors is without doubt a landmark decision in many aspects. For certain, it is a refreshing breath of just air given the spate of judicial setbacks indigenous peoples have faced in the courts, especially in Sarawak. It also shows that there is enough in our local laws to protect the rights of the marginalised and oppressed if we only want to.
Tags: Orang Asli, land rights
ORANG ASLI RIGHTS TO EDUCATION (1999-2003)
A group of Orang Asli children in Johor were denied education allowance from the Orang Asli Department, purportedly for sending their children to a Chinese primary school instead of a national school.
For 3 decades, the Temuan living at Kampung Sungai Mering, Tangkak, had sent their children to Chung Hwa Chinese Primary School in Muar, which is about 13 km from their village and one of the nearest schools around. Koh Swe Yong, a member of the Chung Hwa board of governors and an Exco member of HAKAM stated that from 1985 to 1991, the children had been receiving assistance from the Johor Orang Asli Welfare Department. However, it stopped in 1991.
Thereafter HAKAM took up the case as well as raised funds to enable the children affected to continue their studies.
According to the book The Orang Asli and the Contest for Resources by Colin Nicholas, coordinator for the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (Coac), on average, 94.4% of the Orang Asli schoolchildren who registered in primary one never reached the end of secondary schooling 11 years later.
“The reason given by the department was that attending a Chinese medium school disqualified the children from receiving the assistance,” said Koh.
He added that various appeals made by the Chinese primary school and the Temuan community to the authorities were rejected on the grounds that it is a national policy.
Tags: Orang Asli, education
CREATING AWARENESS ON THE EFFECTS OF CORRUPTION (1995)
The 1990s were the booming economic growth. But that also meant there were more opportunities and temptations for greed in society, both in the civil and private sectors. HAKAM took it upon itself to initiate forums and campaigns to educate society on the dangers of corruption.
We have not arrested the problem of corruption, in fact, it would seem that the offences and amounts involved have increased manifold.
POLICE SHOOTING CONDEMNATIONS (1998)
In 1998 six men were shot dead in Tumpat, Kelantan by the police using 47 bullets. There was no evidence to the police’s claim that they acted in ‘self-defence’; no forensic investigation was ever carried out on the guns allegedly seized from the deceased persons.
In Nilai, V. Vikines, 19 years old, was shot dead together with 2 friends in their 20s, after police said they ignored orders to surrender and opened fire at the police. There were bruises and marks on the deceased’s face, legs and back. Vikines was said to be an innocent schoolboy. Foul play among the police was suspected and HAKAM had to make a stand.
HAKAM conducted research on police shootings and statistics were collected. It was found that there were more police shootings / killings in 1997-1998 than there were incidents of murder in the country!
Tags: Police accountability
REGIONAL ASEAN HUMAN RIGHTS MECHANISM DIALOGUE (1998-1999)
In the late 1990s, ASEAN leaders like Dr. Mahathir and Lee Kuan Yew articulated the idea of “Asian values”, thereby denying the universality of human rights. This led to the establishment of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, where HAKAM represented Malaysia to work with its counterparts in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines to establish a regional human rights mechanism in ASEAN. While this was never achieved, it paved the way to the creation of national human rights commissions in several ASEAN countries.
Tags: International dialogue
PUBLICATION ON “HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE COMMISSION” (1999)
HAKAM was relentless in creating a national human rights commission. It published a book in 1999, laying the groundwork.
Tags: Publication, Human Rights Commission
HAKAM continued its pursuit by holding forums with SUARAM and Era Consumer. A Human Rights Day Message by Ramdas Tikamdas, narrating the “nightmare for human rights” in Malaysia, was read out by YB Lim Kit Siang in debating the formation of HAKAM.
SUHAKAM was eventually formed in 1999.
Tags: Dialogue, Human Rights Commission, SUHAKAM
CRITIQUE OF SUHAKAM (2000)
While HAKAM actively engaged with SUHAKAM, it also knew when to stand up against it.
On 15 May 2000, SUHAKAM held its first meeting with public groups and it chose to meet with Aliran, HAKAM and Suaram, as these 3 organisations were placed “in the forefront” of the struggle for human rights and civil liberties in Malaysia.
Calls were also made to seek repeal of all coercive laws, such as the Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA), Emergency Ordinance 1969, Printing Press and Publication Act 1984, Sedition Act 1948.
SUHAKAM was called upon to be autonomous, courageous, accessible, transparent, accountable and responsive to all Malaysians.
Tags: Dialogue, Human Rights Commission, SUHAKAM
THE 100-DAY BOYCOTT OF SUHAKAM (2002)
In 2002, HAKAM together with 32 NGOs boycotted SUHAKAM. SUHAKAM’s Freedom of Assembly report and Kesas Highway Inquiry report were summarily dismissed by the then Prime Minister, indicating SUHAKAM’s toothlessness. The NGOs also were unhappy with former Attorney General Abu Talib’s appointment as SUHAKAM Chairman because of his roles while he was AG in defending the use of the ISA in Operation Lalang, and in the impeachment of former Lord President Tun Salleh Abas and five Supreme Court judges.
Tags: Human Rights Commission, SUHAKAM
CAMPAIGN TO ABOLISH ISA (2000)
The Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA) continued to be abused in Malaysia until the new millennium. Notable figures include sacked Deputy Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim and HINDRAF leaders during Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s time as Malaysia’s 5th Prime Minister. HAKAM has consistently voiced its opposition against detention without trials.
“At the core of public perception of the Rule of Law is a sense of justice and fairness. Preventive Detention Laws like the ISA, by their very nature, challenge and undermine the essentials of a free and democratic society.” – Ramdas Tikamdas, President of HAKAM
DEFENDING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION IN THE ARTS (2003)
In 2003, Malaysia’s Instant Café Theatre staged a political satire called “The 2nd First Annual Bolehwood Awards”. Apparently, one of the skits was considered blasphemous to Muslims and within a week, the KL City Hall announced that it would not issue any performing licenses to ICT. In 2002, the Ulama Society of Kedah took offence of the Malaysian staging of “The Vagina Monologues”. City Hall refused permits for a second run of the play. Hishamuddin Rais’s “Tok Ampoo” theater was shut down in 2004 during a play in KL.
HAKAM believes in the value of expression through the arts. It published a book on this and continued to issue press statements defending the freedom of the arts.
Tags: Freedom of Expression
FESTIVAL OF RIGHTS (2005)
HAKAM’s pursuit of the freedom of expression perhaps culminated in the Festival of Rights, where one of the largest happened in 2005. HAKAM organized this together with the Bar Council and Malaysian Civil Liberties Society (MCLS). More than 450 lawyers, concerned citizens and NGOs “took to the streets”, marching with colourful and eye-catching banners and placards from Dataran Merdeka at 7.45 a.m. towards the Parliament House. They later gathered at the Amphitheatre at Lake Gardens for speeches and performances, where then HAKAM President Cecil Rajendra recited epigrams tinged with sharp sarcasm about the various authorities.
Tags: Freedom of Expression
NATIONAL INTERFAITH COMMISSION PARTICIPATION (2005)
The idea for an interfaith body was first conceived by the Human Rights Committee of the Bar Council and HAKAM on December 10, 2000. Among the problems faced at the time and still today was the absence of the legal right to revert to one’s former religion after converting to Islam, the illegality of inter-religious marriage, difficulties by non-Muslim family members to claim the bodyof Muslim apostates, and the ban on the Malay-language Bible. In 2001, the Bar Council initiated the formation of the Interfaith Commission, which included JUST, HAKAM, ABIM, SIS, MCCBCHS, IKIM, JAKIM, JAIS, SUARAM, etc.
“The fact remains that being multi-racial and multi-religious, there is bound to be friction as beliefs and cultures come into conflict … a constructive and concrete method had to be put in place to deal with friction in a non-confrontational and apolitical way.” – Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, Steering Committee Chairman
A two-day national interfaith conference held on 24-25 February 2005 to discuss the formation of an Interfaith Commission of Malaysia (ICM) was attended by more than 200 representatives in Bangi despite being boycotted by several Islamic groups. A draft bill was endorsed. However, then Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi passed the verdict that the proposed commission be deferred and its proponents were advised to focus on interfaith dialogue instead.
Tags: Freedom to Religion, dialogue
ARTICLE 11 ROADSHOWS (2006)
After the formal ending of Interfaith Commission dialogues, a coalition of 13 NGOs, including HAKAM, set up Article 11. The M. Moorthy and S. Shamala cases where conversion to Islam by one party led to difficulties for non-converted family members created much tension. Article 11’s aim was to create awareness of the Federal Constitution and the rule of law against increasing assertions that Malaysia is an Islamic State. Of course, this was quite a controversy and the forums in Penang and Johor Bahru were met with protests and disruptions.
Tags: Freedom to Religion, Article 11
STANDING UP TO MORAL POLICING (2006-2007)
On January 2005, JAWI raided a Kuala Lumpur nightclub and subsequently detained and humiliated approximately 100 Muslim youths. On February 2005, the Malacca Belia 4-B campaign spied on young people for promiscuous behavior under the pretext of controlling morality. On 2 March 2005, a transgender was arrested in the garden of a friend’s house by religious authorities in Taiping. A couple were booked by City Hall enforcement officers for holding hands at KLCC Park.
There are only some of the unfortunate incidents that demonstrate how moral policing violates the personal dignity of humans and their rights as citizens. HAKAM, together with SIS and other NGOs, voiced out against such State practices.
More than 40 non-governmental organisations and about 190 individuals today endorsed a move against the policing of morality. They called for a repeal of provisions in laws that deny citizens their fundamental rights to privacy, freedom of speech and expression, and which overlap the Federal Penal Code. Speaking on their behalf, lawyer and National Human Rights Society representative Raja Aziz Addruse said they also wanted a committee to be appointed to monitor the process of repealing such laws, with representation from women’s groups, human rights groups, civil society organisations, progressive religious scholars and constitutional experts. He also called for the strengthening of pluralism through community dialogue, rather than the divisiveness bred by the “sub-contracting of moral policing” and neighbours spying on each other.” This is in line with the spirit of our democratic and pluralistic society.
“It is the responsibility of the Government to uphold and protect the rights of its citizens to justice, equality, freedom and dignity at all times,” – Raja Aziz Addruse told reporters.
Tags: Fundamental Rights, Moral Policing
SABM-HAKAM DIALOGUE ON THE SOCIAL INCLUSION ACT (2012)
While Malaysia pushes to become a developed nation, poverty and marginalization of certain segments of society still affects a large population of society. Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM) and HAKAM led by its then President Datuk Malik Imtiaz, in collaboration with various political parties like DAP, PKR, STAR, SAPP, PSM, PRM and UPKO participated in dialogues to address this serious issue.
Subsequently, a proposed Social Inclusion Act was launched by SABM and HAKAM on 14 August 2012. It proposes a new policy that depoliticises the implementation of socially inclusive programmes to address poverty and marginalisation. It also proposes the establishment of a Social Inclusion Commission answerable directly to Parliament.
Tags: Dialogue, Social Inclusion
EFFORTS TO ABOLISH THE DEATH PENALTY (2002, 2013, 2014)
In 2002, former HAKAM President Raja Aziz Addruse urged the Government to amend mandatory death penalty laws to give judges the option whether or not to pass the death sentence. Speaking at an Amnesty International workshop on The Death Penalty, he said that at present, the imposition of the death penalty was not a choice for the presiding judge in cases involving murder and drug trafficking. He said the mandatory death sentences under the penal code for murder and drug offences meant that anyone found guilt would automatically join death row.
In October 2013, in association with Bar Council Malaysia, HAKAM and Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia held a forensic psychiatry training workshop in Kuala Lumpur for mental health and legal professionals involved in capital cases in Malaysia. HAKAM through its then President Abdul Rashid Ismail participated in the Death Penalty Project (Malaysia) through which it is found that 108 people were sentenced to death in 2011, about two-thirds for drug-related offences. By September 2012, it appeared that there were 924 people under sentence of death on ‘death row’ in Malaysia, 648 of them having been sentenced for drug-trafficking. In the same project, Roger Hood, Professor Emeritus of Criminology at the University of Oxford was commissioned to present a new report on the complexities of public attitudes towards the death penalty in Malaysia. The title of the report is “The Death Penalty in Malaysia: Public Opinion on the Mandatory Death Penalty for Drug Trafficking, Murder and Firearms Offences”.
Tags: Death Penalty