Saturday, January 16

Why not try another commission?

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Let us pray for their safety and safe return to their families.

DURING October and November 2017, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) was holding a public inquiry into the disappearance of four Malaysian citizens. The commission wanted to determine if these cases could be defined under the UN’s International Convention for Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance or if they were, each one of them, cases of voluntary disappearance? The former would be a case falling under the international law of crimes against humanity and the signatory country of the convention would be bound to observe it.

In the report by Bernama, as quoted by The Borneo Post of Oct 11, 2017, Suhakam’s enquiry panel said, “If the terms of reference have been established, the next step is to investigate how the breaches had come about and to identify the persons or agencies responsible … In addition, we will also investigate if there were administrative directives or procedures that had contributed to the breaches and also whether the authorities, in particular the Royal Malaysia Police, had taken adequate action.”

Within the first week of the proceedings, 35 witnesses testified. Members of the Malaysian public were pinning their hopes on what Suhakam was doing in order to dispel fear among the population – fear of the unknown.

That was four years ago. Subject to correction, Suhakam’s Inquiry panel has not published its findings. Were these cases of Enforced Disappearance or of Voluntary Disappearance? Or were these just ordinary cases of missing persons? A case for the police to handle and for Suhakam to note and follow up, if necessary.

The then Home Affairs Minister, now our Prime Minister, formed a taskforce for the purpose of looking into the disappearance of Pastor Koh and the others. As the terms of reference of the task force were not made public, we would not know about how the outfit would be handling the cases.

Whatever it was, the families of Pastor Koh, Pastor Joshua Hilmy and his wife Ruth, and Amri Che Mat, have a right to know about the results of the investigations into all the cases, whatever the categories that they might belong to.  And so do we, the public!

Unless the contrary is proven, the media people have stuck to the theory that Pastor Raymond Koh, aged 62 years, was abducted by a group of men in a convoy of cars, while Amri Che Mat, Pastor Joshua Hilmy and his wife Ruth, were reported missing at various times. Are we supposed to believe that these persons were taken up into the clouds or were snatched by the extraterrestrials? We had expected that the police would carry out investigations straightaway, and find the missing persons in no time … alive, fit, and sound!

It’s four years now. Silence! Would the public be able to read what the Inquiry panel of Suhakam had found out? Or whether or not we are entitled to know about the findings of the Home Ministerial Task Force? Forgive us for being impatiently curious: where could the four Malaysians possibly be? And more importantly, if locked up somewhere, are they all right health-wise? When do members of their respective families expect to see them home? When do the rest of us rejoice with the families?

For that matter – who can lock up Malaysian citizens in a secret hideout, for four years, and nobody in authority knows anything about it?

Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI)

After a long silence over these cases, what should we do, better still what else should the authorities do, to answer all these questions? We cannot keep on speculating; this is not healthy. There must be closure to each and every case soon.

Apparently impatient, someone from my chat group suggested that a Royal Commission of Inquiry be formed with the appropriate terms of reference, which should be made known to the public. This does not imply that Suhakam has no teeth, but it does suggest that the investigations carried out by the Commission two years ago were not good enough for the purpose of deciding the question of closure. It was just a good beginning of a possible solution.

Was the Inquiry panel given the power to summon or compel the attendance of witnesses? This is the power that is normally given to a Royal Commission of Inquiry.

We hope that the federal government will create this RCI as soon as possible, and that witnesses will come forth voluntarily. As good Malaysians, whomsoever they are, should cooperate fully with the RCI. They will do a good service to the Malaysian public who wish to know the truth, nothing but the truth.

Every honourable member of parliament thinks about the general election. I wish some MP would ask a question in Parliament about the findings of Suhakam’s panel as well as those of the taskforce. And/or propose the formation of a Royal Commission of Inquiry, if there is still necessity for more information. Such an MP would do the country a great favour if he or she could suggest to the government to create the RCI while they are still walking in the corridors of power. They would be less effective in this context after they re-join the society of ordinary mortals like the columnists for newspapers.

Suhakam has done its job and the taskforce must have also done its job, yet people are still asking questions. They are not concerned so much with technicalities – whether or not these were cases classified as enforced disappearance of persons or are just missing persons. More importantly, the missing persons must be brought home soon by all lawful means! Respectable citizens only ‘disappear’ in lawless countries, far away, ruled by bloodthirsty dictators … or so we think. Let us not allow Malaysia to descend to the level of the countries listed as ‘human rights violators’.

Ours is a nation of God-fearing people. Get that?

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