From Kua Kia Soong
If Malaysians are not moved by the judicial attempt of the wife of activist Amri Che Mat to compel the release of the findings of a task force report into the 2016 enforced disappearance of her husband, currently classified under the Official Secrets Act (OSA), we are closer to being a banana republic than you think.
Surely, the state has a duty to ensure Amri’s wife, Norhayati Mohd Ariffin, is availed of the findings of this report.
Given that she has not yet been given access to such important information, Norhayati filed a judicial review leave application at the Kuala Lumpur High Court last Thursday seeking to quash the OSA classification so that she could access the report to strengthen her related civil action against the police and the federal government over her husband’s disappearance.
On April 3, 2019, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) had concluded that Amri was a victim of enforced disappearance.
The public inquiry also unanimously concluded that the perpetrators were members of Bukit Aman’s Special Branch. This was a shocking conclusion by Malaysia’s national human rights commission.
Two months after that, the home ministry formed a special task force to reinvestigate the disappearances of Amri and Raymond Koh but, apparently, the task force’s report has been classified under the OSA with the government claiming that the disclosure of the findings would be against national interests.
Enforced disappearance of a citizen’s security
The human rights that enforced disappearances violate include the right to liberty and security of the person; the right not to be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment; the right to life, and the right to a fair trial and to judicial guarantees.
The United Nations (UN) has stressed that enforced disappearances are more than a human rights violation against an individual – “it is a strategy in banana republics to spread terror within the society”.
The feeling of insecurity such acts generate is not limited to the close relatives of those who have disappeared but also affects our whole society.
First, the victims have been removed from the protection of the law by persons unknown, deprived of all their rights and are at the mercy of their captors. Then the families and friends of the victims experience extreme mental anguish, not knowing whether the victim is still alive or dead.
This anguish is acutely felt by family members, and it is mostly women who then step up to the forefront of the struggle to resolve the disappearance of family members.
Such a phenomenon used to be confined to military dictatorships. For this to happen in Malaysia after more than 60 years of independence is a shocking affront to the human and constitutional rights in our country.
Enforced disappearances appear to be used as a means of political repression of those a particular regime considers “undesirable”.
Enforced disappearance of our constitutional rights
In her judicial attempt to compel the release of the OSA-classified report into the enforced disappearance of her husband, Norhayati is seeking access to justice, a right guaranteed under Articles 5 and 8 of the Federal Constitution.
Article 5 enshrines the fundamental right that no person may be deprived of life or personal liberty except in accordance with the law while Article 8 states that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to equal protection of the law.
Impunity for enforced disappearance must not be tolerated
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, adopted by the UN General Assembly on Dec 20, 2006, state that “forced disappearances” qualify as a crime against humanity and, thus, is not subject to a statute of limitations. It gives the victims’ families the right to seek reparations, and to demand the truth about the disappearance of their loved ones.
On Dec 21, 2010, the UN General Assembly welcomed the adoption of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and decided to declare Aug 30 the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, to be observed from 2011 onwards.
I would think that the enforced disappearance of innocent Malaysians, the Suhakam inquiry report, the task force report over their disappearance and the attempt by the state to cover it all up under the cloak of the OSA are matters of urgent public importance to be taken up by MPs in Parliament.
Malaysians, civil society organisations and political parties must demand the declassification of the task force report on the enforced disappearances of Amri and Koh, and the full accountability of the police force.
Kua Kia Soong is a former MP and an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.