‘Fake news people’ scuttled Rome Statute ratification, says AG

Attorney-General Tommy Thomas

KUALA LUMPUR: Attorney-General Tommy Thomas said today he had advised the government to ratify the Rome Statute as it had many advantages.

He also noted that it was an extension of a Cabinet decision made in 2011.

Thomas said that from a legal perspective, it was difficult to argue against ratification of the Rome Statute.

He listed a few rebuttals – what he called “fake news” – which dominated public discussion surrounding the issue.

The AG said there was a Cabinet decision on March 18, 2011, by the previous government to accede to the treaty but that it was never followed through.

He said that when Pakatan Harapan took over and decided to ratify the Rome Statute, it was merely following through with this previous decision.

Those who criticised this move were the same ones who had supported ratification previously, he said at the “Malaysia & Rome Statute” forum at Universiti Malaya this morning.

“How did these fake news people confuse the public? By falsely talking about the immunity of the rulers,” he said.

Thomas maintained that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong was a constitutional monarch, who acted on the advice of the prime minister, except for some minor matters.

He said even though the king was the supreme commander of the armed forces, any decision to go to war would always be made by the prime minister, the Cabinet and the defence ministry.

He gave an example of former British prime minister Tony Blair, who was found to have led the UK in the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003.

He said no one had called for Queen Elizabeth, as the constitutional monarch and the commander of the armed forces, to be tried in court.

He noted that the rulers lost their immunity when the Federal Constitution was amended in 1993 where a special court was set up that could try all offences by rulers and the king.

(From left) Student activist Asheeq Ali, lawyer Lim Wei Jiet, social activist and senator Syed Husin Ali, moderator Kamarul Bahrin, Attorney-General Tommy Thomas and G25 co-founder Noor Farida Ariffin at the Malaysia & Rome Statute forum at Universiti Malaya today.

“Since 1993, they do not have immunity, they have a special court to hear their cases,” he said.

The only difference, he said, was that normal citizens were subject to ordinary courts all over the country, and rulers had a special court to hear them.

Thomas also said that the crimes listed in the Rome Statute – which are genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression – were not crimes under Malaysian law.

He explained that lawmakers and parliamentarians had felt there was no need to pass laws for “nonexistent” crimes in the country, as Malaysia had always been a peaceful country.

Calling the fuss surrounding the ratification of the Rome Statute “absolutely ridiculous”, he said the International Criminal Court (ICC) acted on the “principle of complementarity” where local enforcement authorities would have the primary responsibility to prosecute or investigate criminals of serious international crimes under Malaysian laws in the domestic courts.

In this sense, he said, the ICC would pressure Malaysian courts to do their job properly.

“It would put a bit of pressure on those who administer justice to do the right thing, because if they don’t then international bodies will come in,” he said.

Thomas said the ratification of the Rome Statute would mean that the country would not be a safe haven for “rogues”, or criminals guilty of any of the four international crimes who might see Malaysia as a “safe haven”.

He said signing the treaty would mean these criminals would be extradited from Malaysian shores immediately.

“It is for these reasons that I had advised the government to ratify the Rome Statute, as from a legal perspective it is difficult to argue on the contrary,” he said.

The Rome Statute set up the ICC to allow the prosecution of those responsible for international crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression.

In March, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the government had no choice but to quit the treaty, following criticism from the Johor palace as well as some parties who said it would undermine Malaysia’s royal institution.

Ratification would entail making changes to Malaysian law to conform with the requirements of the Rome Statute, which allows prosecution of those who commit international crimes such as genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity such as enforced disappearance of individuals by a state or agents of the state.

The ratification would have come into effect on June 1.