KUALA LUMPUR: Attorney-General (AG) Tommy Thomas today revealed that his two immediate predecessors refused to implement the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) despite the then Barisan Nasional government giving the green light.
Thomas did not reveal names but based on the timeline, the AGs were Abdul Gani Patail (Jan 1, 2002 to July 27, 2015) and Mohamed Apandi Ali (July, 28, 2015 to June 4, 2019).
Thomas, a former civil lawyer, said the government of the day was his “client” and as AG he is expected to follow instructions.
“I am surprised. I did not know that as AG, I can refuse to act on the instruction of the client (the Cabinet),” he said at a public forum on The Rome Statute Pull-Out: Controversies and the Implication — Where Do We Go From Here?
The event, organised by the Human Rights Committee of the Malaysian Bar, was held at the Kuala Lumpur-Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall here.
Thomas said he checked the critical dates after a former head of the Research, Treaties and International Law Department at Wisma Putra informed him how the statute became a political issue due to vested interests.
Noor Farida Ariffin, who was the department head in 2011, presented the instrument to accession of the statute to the Cabinet under former prime minister Najib Razak and government agencies.
She had said that all parties agreed with the statute, except for the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) at the time.
Thomas said on July 17, 1998, Malaysia signed the final act of the United Nations’ decision to establish the ICC.
“We need not have signed it but we did it,” he said.
But he said, on April 16, 2010, the AGC objected to Malaysia joining the ICC.
A month later, Thomas said then law minister Nazri Aziz announced Malaysia’s readiness to be part of the ICC at an international conference in Kampala, Uganda
“Despite the AGC’s objection, a Cabinet member of the executive branch informed the world at large about Malaysia’s position.”
He said in November, 2010, Najib issued a policy direction to agree to the ICC following Israel’s attack on a vessel, Gaza Freedom Flotilla.
“Critically, on March 18, 2011, the Cabinet resolved to ask Wisma Putra to implement the statute,” he said.
Thomas said Wisma Putra however could not make any progress because of the AGC’s objections.
He said records also revealed that on Aug 5, 2015, the Cabinet again instructed the AGC to prepare another paper to ratify the convention.
“This was after the shooting down of the MH17 passenger aircraft in Ukrainian airspace a year earlier,” he said.
Thomas said his research revealed that on Nov 13, 2015, the AGC again refused to proceed on the matter.
Thomas, who was appointed AG on June 2 last year, said he advised the PH government to ratify the treaty and also educate the public.
“From a legal perspective, there is no reason to stay away and it is clear as black and white,” he said, that the final decision rests with the political masters.
On April 5, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the government had no choice but to quit the treaty.
This followed criticism from the Johor palace as well as some parties who said it would undermine Malaysia’s royal institution.
The ICC allows the prosecution of those responsible for international crimes, such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression.