Press statement: Suhakam’s hands-off attitude slammed

Press Release

10 October 2007
BERSIH is outraged over Suhakam’s hands-off attitude over the Batu Buruk incident in which two men were shot by a police officer amidst a bloody crackdown on a public assembly on electoral reform.
Suhakam’s refusal to conduct a public inquiry amounts to abating the violent suppression of the right to assembly and abdicating its responsibility as the guardian of human rights in Malaysia.

It is shocking and highly disappointing that Suhakam chose to interpret the Suhakam Act in such a narrow perspective despite its preliminary fact-finding team concluding that there was evidence of police brutality and human rights violations during the incident.
Suhakam commissioner N. Siva Subramaniam said the commission was “powerless” to investigate the incident because of ongoing court proceedings. According to him, Section 12 of the Human Rights Commission Act 1999 forbids the Commission from investigating human rights violation complaints when related cases are taking place in court.
Suhakam’s feeble excuse is completely unacceptable. Court proceedings should only prevent public inquiries in certain cases. For example, if one of the gunshot victims had brought a civil suit against the police for assault, then it would be reasonable for Suhakam to say that it cannot decide on a question which is precisely identical to the question pursued in the courts.
In this instance, the court case that is being used as an excuse is in fact one where the police have charged an individual for alleging destroying public property and not being able to produce his IC. This has no bearing on the shootings in Batu Buruk, and on the burning questions that must be addressed by a public inquiry including the question of how the police willfully acted from the beginning to stop a peaceful public assembly.
In recent years, civil society groups have constantly opposed and argued against the Section 12 of the Suhakam Act but have been assured by the successive chairmen and commissioners of Suhakam that the Commission would strive to ensure that all human rights violation be adequately addressed despite the existence of Section 12. This is apparently not the case in the case of Batu Buruk.
Suhakam’s misunderstanding of the Act means that, in future, all the police have to do to stop any public inquiry by Suhakam into allegations of police violence and abuse of powers in a public assembly is to simply charge one of the participants in court. Surely Suhakam must understand how preposterous this is!
BERSIH also finds it unacceptable that Suhakam has bought into the Government’s propaganda that the Batu Buruk incident was a riot. BERSIH is also irked by the commission’s statement that the use of water cannons and tear gas “cannot at this juncture be considered as an act to curtail freedom of assembly”.
The only action which Suhakam will now pursue is a discussion with the Inspector-General of Police Musa Hassan on the Commission’s suggestion on crowd control measures and amendments to the Police Act 1997 relating to licensing for public assembly permits. Suhakam should have persuaded the Government and the police to be more civil and responsible in its handling of public gatherings a long time ago, in light of the publication of its findings on the Kesas Highway incident in 2000, its “Freedom of Assembly” report (2001), and the KLCC-Bloody Sunday report (2006).
BERSIH therefore demands that Suhakam immediately reviews and corrects this appalling decision and establish a public inquiry to investigate the Batu Burok incident in a thorough, impartial and transparent manner.