Exit from Rome Statute shows govt is weak, says Charles Santiago

Klang MP Charles Santiago says the sudden backdown from the Rome Statute shows the government is buckling under pressure.

GEORGE TOWN: Klang MP Charles Santiago today panned the government’s move to withdraw from the Rome Statute, saying it sends the wrong message to voters, investors and fellow Asean members.

He said with the accession to the statute, Malaysia could have played an important role in Asean in punishing those involved in the genocide against the ethnic Rohingya and other forms of extremism.

The Rome Statute is an international agreement that created the International Criminal Court (ICC), which serves to complement existing laws in a state to prosecute individuals who commit international crimes, as contained in Article 5 of the statute, such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression.

Santiago, who is Asean Parliamentarian for the human rights chair, said on the local front, the exit portrays weakness and a government that would buckle under pressure.

Santiago speaking at the Refugees’ Festival in George Town, Penang, today.

He said the latest exit episode was reminiscent of the brouhaha over Malaysia’s proposed ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). He said there was also no engagement with the people before deciding not to ratify it.

Santiago said ICERD, like the Rome Statute, did not adversely impact anyone, but Malaysia was quick to drop it like a hot potato under pressure.

“All of this shows weakness. It shows you have not thought through; it shows upon pressure, you relent.

“This is going to send the wrong message to the public who voted for you, the investors and the Malaysians who rooted for you, thinking you are making the right decisions for them.

“This is going to reflect personally on him (the prime minister) and the Cabinet, and you make the Cabinet look weak. Just because a spanner is thrown in, you backtrack,” Santiago said on the sidelines of the Refugees’ Festival here today.

“They didn’t reach out and, as a result, you have made this U-turn. It’s a loss of face for the minister and the government,” he said referring to Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah, who signed the Rome Statute at the United Nations in March.

Santiago said Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad was brave to remove the immunity from prosecution of the sultans but wondered why the elder statesman was “buckling” now. “What has changed?” he asked.

He said as a government which won in the last polls, it should make decisions in the interest of the people and stick to it.

“When you behave in a weak fashion, you expect people to support you?”

Confusion

Meanwhile, Edmund Bon, former Malaysian Representative to the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, felt Malaysia’s exit is bound to cause a lot of confusion, whether it is immediate or after a year.

Lawyer Edmund Bon says this is the first time a country has left so quickly after acceding to the statute.

He said when the Philippines decided to withdraw from the statute, it only took effect a year later.

Bon, who is director of the Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism and Human Rights, said it was the first time a country had left so quickly after acceding to the statute.

He said if Article 127 of the statute were to be followed strictly, it was legally binding for the next one year from June this year.

Bon said if there was a one-year grace period, Malaysia could lodge complaints at the ICC over the issue of persecution of Rohingya, Uighurs, the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 and the issue of Palestine and Yemen, too.

“If the crimes are committed in this one-year period, Malaysia can bring it to the ICC.”

Critics of the treaty have said signing it would violate the Federal Constitution as it would affect the monarch, Malay rights and the sanctity of Islam in the country.

Amnesty says it is shocking

In PETALING JAYA, Amnesty International Malaysia (AIM) said Putrajaya’s decision to withdraw from the Rome Statute is a blow to the country’s effort to fight for justice for victims of human rights violations, including the Rohingya.

Labelling the move “shocking and disappointing”, AIM executive director Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu said this is why the nation must reverse its decision and honour its accession to the statute.

“As Malaysia had previously said, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is the only avenue for justice for the millions of victims of international crimes.

“Malaysia has been lauded for denouncing the crimes committed against the Rohingya. This withdrawal is a blow to a concerted global effort in fighting for justice for the victims of the most heinous human rights violations.”

She noted that in recent months, the government had backtracked on introducing significant reforms, including abolishing oppressive laws, ratifying the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and abolishing the death penalty in totality.