Suhakam undecided on free assembly

Fauwaz Abdul Aziz (malaysiakini)
Nov 9, 07 7:43pm

On the eve of possibly the largest assembly of people to gather in calling for electoral reforms, the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) still has not made a clear stand on the right to freedom of assembly.

This was to the disappointment of about 15 members from polls coalition Bersih, which is organising the rally and procession to Istana Negara tomorrow.
They met with Suhakam commissioner N Siva Subramaniam this afternoon to extract a stand on the issue.
The delegation also sought to submit a protest note to Suhakam and express its disappointment with what was described as the commission’s “inconsistency” on the issue of right to freedom of assembly.
Leading the delegation, PAS research head Dr Zulkifli Ahmad (left) noted that Siva said a month ago that individuals have the right to freedom of assembly.
However, this was contradicted by the subsequent call for Bersih to apply for a police permit for the gathering.
“We wish to get the firm and consistent stand of Suhakam (on the right to assembly) – such as displayed in the Kesas Highway matter – and the need for a permit,” said Zulkifli when opening the discussions.
“The people’s confidence in the credibility of Suhakam has been torn asunder. At some points, we are full of hope, but at other times, we are disappointed by its actions.”
On whether Suhakam would assert the people’s right to peacefully assemble tomorrow without fear of arrest and whether Bersih is still required to be issued a permit, Siva said these were issues that the commission had yet to decide on and that he hopes Abu Talib will make a statement tomorrow.
“These issues, we have discussed… We will do what Suhakam should do in the interests of all parties,” he said.
‘Prevent excessive force’
PAS Gombak information chief Saari Sungib urged Suhakam to impress upon the police the need to respect human rights and to ensure it does not resort to excessive force when carrying out its duties.
To this, Siva (right) said Suhakam is only empowered to make recommendations to the authorities on their responsibilities and the limits of its powers when enforcing the law.
“We will continue to hold dialogues (with government agencies) on this,” he said.
At one point, frustrated with the lack of an unequivocal answer to the question on whether people have the right to peaceful assembly, PKR Kepong secretary N Subramaniam demanded Siva answer whether he was “for the government or for the people”.
To Siva’s answer that he was representing a government institution tasked with protecting the human rights of the people, the PKR leader then asked if it meant he is merely a “mediator” between the two.
“I am not a mediator. I can only say what Suhakam will or will not do. I’m a representative of the commissioners’ view. (Whatever views are expressed here) I’ll take it up with the commissioners,” he said.
The situation cooled down when the delegates urged Siva to consider that Suhakam was among the last institutions the people can turn to, in order to uphold human rights.
Zulkifli said their only wish is that Suhakam maintains its stand on issues of human rights.
“We are asking Suhakam to make the stand and to stand by that position. The general perception is that the stand cannot be upheld,” he said.
“That stand may be breached – we know that Suhakam does not have enforcement powers to prosecute such violations – but at least there should be a stand that these (violations) are wrong.”
Siva later told Malaysiakini that Bersih’s concerns would be conveyed to Abu Talib.
“All we can say at this moment is, we hope that all parties should act responsibly.”

Working paper on Batu Buruk

Zulkifli also said the coalition wants to know the outcome of Suhakam’s deliberations on whether or not it will review its stand not to hold a public inquiry on the Batu Buruk incident on Sept 8 in Kuala Terengganu.
Dubbed the ‘Bloody’ Ceramah, it followed police refusal to allow Bersih to hold the event. The subsequent riot led to two men being injured after a police constable shot ‘live’ bullets into the crowd. when the situation allegedly became difficult to control.
Responding to Zulkifli, Siva said Suhakam is not a body that acts according to pressure from various quarters but that it is a commission set up by Parliament and appointed by the King to carry out its functions.
A working paper looking into the possibility of a review of Suhakam’s initial decision not to hold a public inquiry will be submitted on Monday to commissioners for their deliberation.
“Suhakam chairperson (Abu Talib Othman, photo) will make an announcement on this after a decision has been made,” added Siva.
“We will base our decision on the concept of human rights. You don’t have to worry about that. We are consistent on human rights issues. It has been the basis of our work.”