Tuesday, September 24

Of human rights and wrongs

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Dr Madeline Berma

LAST Monday, I was included in a delegation of members of local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) invited by the Kuching-based office of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) to meet with its new Commissioner for Sarawak Affairs, Dr Madeline Berma.

As she herself has declared, she is not a Burmese, but a fair dinkum Sarawakian from Siol Kandis in Kuching. This is a Sarawak’s daughter who has made the grade in the academia and has thus, made us all proud, especially the representatives of the women’s organisations.

Join me in welcoming Dr Madeline and in wishing her all the very best in her new job.

During the meeting, goodwill and mutual respect was established quickly. Matters pertaining to human rights and human wrongs were discussed frankly and openly, with emphasis on producing practicable proposals for eventual consideration and action by the government, state or federal.

The importance of working closely with all stakeholders was underlined as a practical roadmap for the NGOs and Suhakam in the months and years ahead. Synergic collaboration between Suhakam/government/NGOs is vital if the righting of wrongs is to be meaningful and productive.

The NGO representatives are looking forward to working closely with Suhakam.

The rapport between Suhakam and NGOs is nothing new – both have been collaborating with one another during the tenure of previous commissioners to whom we must express our gratitude for their work with the Commission in Sarawak.

Personally, I have been associated with Suhakam for quite a while now.

In 1999, the Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (Sadia) of which I have been a member, was among the NGOs consulted by Tun Musa Hitam, the former Deputy Prime Minister, regarding the drafting of the Human Rights Commission Act. Since its operation beginning the following year, I have been representing my association at Suhakam’s public meetings here and elsewhere.

Representatives of the other NGOs present at the meeting on Monday assured Suhakam of their readiness to collaborate with the commission in terms of providing it with factual information – if and when they discover any human rights violations during the course of their social work.

Its commissioner promised to listen and, together with the government at all levels, to take action in ‘promoting awareness of human rights and undertaking research and conducting programmes, seminars and workshops’, as well as in disseminating and distributing the results of its work.

We were reminded of another responsibility of Suhakam, as a statutory body created by Parliament, in terms of ‘advising the government and/or relevant authorities of complaints against them and recommending appropriate measures to be taken’.

Dr Madeline Berma sought understanding of the representatives present and of the other NGOs in the state, saying that Suhakam would like ‘to be referred to, to be relevant, to be respected, and to be recognised’. The feelings were mutually reciprocated – applause.

Seeing the prevailing cordial atmosphere, I seized the opportunity to raise several issues which had been long outstanding. The first issue of great public importance relates to the disappearance of Pastor Raymond Koh Keng Joo and social activist Amri Che Mat; the second issue, equally significant, is about the outcome of the 2013 National Inquiry into the dispossession of lands of the indigenous peoples of Malaysia.

Pastor Koh and Amri Che Mat

As readers may remember, Suhakam had conducted a public enquiry a couple of years ago into the disappearance of Pastor Koh and Amri Che Mat. As a result of the enquiry, Suhakam had recorded and reported its findings. However, as these findings could be considered sensitive from my perspective, I would not go any further except to wish that within the following six months, the Malaysian public would learn of the truth – the whole truth and nothing but the truth – about what happened to these two human beings who happen to be Malaysians.

Still, other members of the delegation wanted the Commissioner to enlighten them on this issue. Were the human rights and the constitutional rights of the two Malaysians violated?

I believe this anxiety was duly noted by the commissioner. We got the impression that she would bring up the subject raised to her colleagues in Kuala Lumpur. No doubt we will hear more about the final outcome of the investigations, upon investigations – eventually.

National Inquiry on Indigenous Land Rights

As regards the outcome of the National Inquiry (2013) into the land rights of the indigenous peoples of Malaysia, the position was not clear as of last Monday. However, it is hoped that Suhakam would be able to enlighten the relevant NGOs (land rights advocates) representatives regarding the present status of the Report of the Inquiry. The NGOs participating in this Inquiry held 16 years ago would like to know if their views and recommendations had been duly considered and acted upon by the authorities. If not, why not?

The new commissioner is very keen to get on with her job and asked for cooperation and understanding from the local NGOs.

The eagerness to collaborate was mutual. She’s so keen that when told of a group of poor people squatting on the fringe of a cemetery, she asked for directions and went off to see it for herself.

Yes indeed, such a site of extreme urban poverty exists – just a stone’s throw from the mansions, luxurious condominiums and shopping malls, right here in our beloved hometown!

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