|Bar: Rights record 'still unacceptable'|
|Hafiz Yatim | Dec 10, 08 2:44pm|
As the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is observed worldwide today, Bar Council president Ambiga Sreenevasan has noted that citizens' access to human rights is still at "an unacceptable level" in Malaysia.
Asked at a press conference last night to compare the country's standards of human rights between this year and the last, she outlined key areas where improvements are urgently required.
As an immediate case in point, she cited ongoing action against participants of Jerit's 'Ride for Change' campaign, which has been targeted by police since two teams simultaneously left Johor Baru and Alor Setar respectively last week, on a 16-day bicycle ride to Kuala Lumpur.
Said Ambiga: "The police are not being fully utilised for crime prevention when they are asked to stop and arrest (the campaigners) throughout the country.
"The Bar Council finds this to be unacceptable as crimes are increasing every day, and yet the authorities are using the police (against) youth who are exercising their civil rights."
The campaigners are scheduled to hand over a memorandum to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in Parliament on Dec 18, seeking attention to the wage structure, affordable housing, price controls, and to prevent the privatisation of water supply and medical and education services.
At different stages of their journey to date, police have stepped in to set roadblocks and arrest participants, while arsonists have burnt some of the bicycles.
Ambiga said the government could have improved its human rights record, especially with the country being one of the 47 members of the UN Human Rights Council.
She reiterated calls for repeal of outdated and rights-unfriendly legislation like the Internal Security Act (ISA), Official Secrets Act, Police Act, Printing Presses and Publications Act, Sedition Act, Emergency Ordinance and Drug Rehabilitation Act.
"These have been in place for more than 20 years and should have been amended or repealed to suit current needs. For example, the ISA is being implemented badly...to curb civil liberties of the people and politicians."
Ambiga pointed to arrests under the ISA, including the detention of five Hindu Rights Action Force leaders last December, as well that of a blogger, opposition politician and a journalist this year.
She further called for an end to capital and corporal punishment, urging politicians to watch such punishment being meted out as well as to see for themselves the conditions at the Kamunting detention camp and immigration detention camps to realise the extent of inhumanity involved.
Bar Council Human Rights committee chairperson Edmund Bon (left), who was also at the press conference held at the Bar Council premises, also expressed concern for the welfare of the Orang Asli and the indigenous people in Sabah and Sarawak.
Earlier, Parti Keadilan Rakyat vice-president Dr Syed Husin Ali officiated at the opening of the Bar Council's inaugural debate competition at Kolej Damansara Utama, in conjunction with World Human Rights Day.
In his speech, he noted that Malaysia is a member of the Human Rights Council but has not ratified the international convenants on civil and political rights, as well as on economic, social and cultural rights.
"It is no surprise, therefore that (the government) often rides roughshod over some human rights issues," he said.
Syed Husin, a former ISA detainee, said the draconian security law had enabled arbitrary arrests and detentions over the years.
"Those arrested can be detained for an indefinite period without being taken to court (and are held) mostly on false allegations. I was detained for six years and some people I know had been detained for 15 years," he said.
"It is an unjust Act which can and has often been used to cripple political parties and politicians regarded by the ruling parties as enemies. It is also against Islam and other great religions.