Press statement on SUHAKAM's refusal to hold a public inquiry on Batu Burok by CIJ and Suaram

10 October 2007
SUHAKAM’s refusal to hold a public inquiry on the Batu Burok incident reaffirms its lack of will in protecting human rights.
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) and Centre for Independent Journalism Malaysia (CIJ Malaysia) view with great disappointment and deplores the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM)’s decision not to hold a public inquiry into the violence in Batu Burok, Terengganu on 8 September 2007, which involved the shooting of two unarmed civilians by the police.

According to commissioner Siva Subramaniam, SUHAKAM is restricted by the law to investigate the incident because of an ongoing court proceeding. He was referring to Section 12(2) of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 which states, “The Commission shall not inquire into any complaint relating to any allegation of the infringement of human rights which: (a) is the subject matter of any proceedings pending in any court, including any appeals; or (b) has been finally determined by any court.”
However, we strongly oppose commissioner Siva Subramaniam’ s statement with regards to the legal restrictions. We are of the view that the subject matter of the ongoing court proceeding, as referred to by SUHAKAM, is not identical to the inquiry which it was supposed to conduct.
The said ongoing court proceeding involves Khair Muzakkir Ali, a 22 year-old man, who is on trial for destruction of public property and failure to produce his identification card to the police in Batu Burok on 8 September 2007. Meanwhile, the complaint lodged to SUHAKAM by BERSIH (13 September 2007), which urged the Commission to conduct a public inquiry, was on the excessive violence used by the police to stop the ceramah (public rally) which resulted in the shooting of two unarmed civilians by the police.
SUHAKAM’s narrow interpretation of Section 12(2) of the Act is indeed appalling, as it fails to differentiate between the excessive police violence which is a grave violation of human rights on the one hand, and charges of destruction of public property and failure to produce identification card by an individual, on the other.
If SUHAKAM’s current interpretation of the Act is to be adopted, we fear that this will encourage the police to resort to prosecution of victims of police brutality for various obscure reasons in order to subvert the public inquiry that is to investigate into the abuse of power by the police.
It is worrying that SUHAKAM chose not to institute a public inquiry into this case of such serious gravity of violation of the right to life in the shootings of live bullets by the police into a crowd of protestors, merely on the grounds of court proceedings on such minor offences of failing to produce identity card and destruction of property.
Further, SUHAKAM’s reluctance to probe into this case may severely hinder the exercise of freedom of assembly in the future. That SUHAKAM chose not to address this issue may lead to the continuous excessive use of force by the police to deny citizens their right to freedom of assembly without redress for the victims.
We view the legal restrictions cited by commissioner Siva Subramaniam as a mere excuse on the part of the Commission to avoid issues which are seen as politically contentious. This once again shows that there is a severe lack of will in SUHAKAM in protecting human rights. We therefore question, with deepest concern, the role of SUHAKAM in the protection of human rights in the country.
We call on SUHAKAM to revert its decision immediately.
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John Liu (Coordinator, SUARAM) & V. Gayathry (Executive Director, CIJ Malaysia)