Syed Husin on fears behind royal objections to Rome Statute

Sociologist and veteran politician Syed Husin Ali at a forum today on Malaysia and the Rome Statute.

KUALA LUMPUR: Sociologist and veteran politician Syed Husin Ali believes that a royal backlash against the Rome Statute stemmed from fears for their own position in the face of increasing scepticism about the use of royal power.

He said the conservatism and feudalism prevalent among the Malay masses had also been made use of by some politicians to raise fears about the future of the community as a whole, leading to royal pressure to reject the Rome Statute.

Speaking at a forum today on Malaysia and the Rome Statute, Syed Husin said the Malay Rulers had felt threatened by increasing criticism of their role in politics, business and the economy.

Threats of criminal action had also been made against members of a royal household, Syed Husin said, quoting from a foreign report about a London-based lawyer who made allegations of serious criminal offences and said he would seek prosecution.

He said he hoped such allegations were not true. However, it would explain the objections raised by members of the Johor royal family, he said.

Syed Husin said the backlash against the Rome Statute, which sets up the International Criminal Court, had been positioned not merely to be about the position of the Malay rulers themselves, but also to strengthen the position of the Malay community because the rulers represent a constitution safeguard protecting special privileges of the Malays.

Syed Husin, a former leader of Partai Sosialis Rakyat and PKR, noted that monarchies in Japan, Sweden and Denmark had ratified the Rome Statute, in contrast to the objections raised in Malaysia about the loss of royal immunity from prosecution.

He said there had been increasing criticism over the years about the role of the rulers in politics and business, as well as questions raised about the cost to the Malaysia economy of carrying nine royal households, so much so that some sections of society had even questioned the need for royalty.

Syed Husin said the fears of the royal houses had been reinforced by a memorandum submitted to the Conference of Rulers which had alleged that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong could be prosecuted at the International Criminal Court because of his position as head of the armed forces.

(The government has dismissed such fears, on the basis that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is a constitutional monarch without executive authority. However, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has said that royalty were also subject to Malaysian law.)

Syed Husin said there had been increasing concern among the rakyat about the rulers offending the principles of the Federal Constitution by interfering in politics, business and the economy.

He said such concerns were “causing them to worry”, despite the traditional and ingrained deference shown by the Malay community towards the Rulers.

Anti-monarchical sentiments among the elite would mean that the Rulers would more easily accept anyone who would champion or reinforce their powers, such as those politicians who objected to the Rome Statute.

Under the Rome Statute, the International Criminal Court is empowered to prosecute those responsible for international crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity such as enforced disappearance of individuals by a state or agents of the state, war crimes and crimes of aggression.

In March, Mahathir said the government was withdrawing from the treaty, following criticism from the Johor palace as well as others who said it would undermine Malaysia’s royal institution.

Ratification would have come into effect on June 1. It would entail making changes to Malaysian law to conform with the requirements of the Statute.