Friday, January 29, 2010

Calling Suhakam to act now





The court’s decision on the use of the term “Allah” by Herald Tribune has sparked diverse responses from various sectors of the society. The most worrying impact of the court decision is that it has led to a series of unwarranted incidents affecting worship and religious sites in Malaysia. It is suspected that the incidents were spearheaded by agent provocateurs with the aim of disrupting the peaceful co-existence and harmony of Malaysians. The incidents mentioned are as follows:

1. Metro Tabernacle Church (Assemblies of God) in Desa Melawati – molotov cocktail damages administrative wing (8 Jan)

2. Assumption Church (Catholic) in Jalan Templar – molotov cocktail hurled on pavement in front of church fails to explode (8 Jan)

3. Life Chapel (evangelical Brethren) in Section 17, PJ – molotov cocktail slightly damages porch (8 Jan)

4. Good Shepherd Church (Lutheran) in PJ old town – firebomb misses window, scorches outer wall, minimal damage (8 Jan)

5. Surau in Taman Menara Maju in Jalan Kampung Jawa, Klang – sliding door shattered (police report lodged on 9 January)

6. All Saints’ Church (Anglican) in Taiping – two molotov cocktails scorch stair case leading to main entrance and side porch (9 Jan)

7. Convent school (Catholic) in Taiping – molotov cocktail, probably meant for St Louis’ Church (Catholic) next door, breaks guard-house window (9 Jan)

8. Malacca Baptist Church (Baptist) in Durian Daun – smeared with black paint (9 Jan)

9. Good Shepherd Church (Anglican) in Lutong, Miri – stones shatter window panes (9 Jan)

10. Sidang Injil Borneo Church (Borneo Evangelical Mission) in Seremban – front doors scorched (10 Jan)

11. Gurdwara Sahib (Sikh) in Sentul – stones flung, mirror at entrance cracked and wall chipped (12 Jan)

12. St Elizabeth’s Church (Catholic) in Kota Kecil, Johor – packets of red paint hurled, splattering the main gate, the grounds inside, a wall and a statue (14 Jan)

13. Grace Global Prayer Church in Rasah, Seremban – two window panes found broken (15 Jan)

14. Mosque in Kota Samarahan, Sarawak – broken glass found near outside wall (16 Jan)

15. Sirratulrahim Surau in Kampung Sabak Awor, Muar – fire damages curtain, window shattered (21 Jan)

16. Surau in Parit Beting, Muar – fire damages the women’s prayer section, carpeting and a door (21 Jan)

The latest incidents that took place at the Jumhuriyah Mosque in Taman Dato’ Haron and Al Imam At Tirmizi Mosque in Taman Seri Sentosa, Lembah Pantai, where two wild-boar heads were found near a gate to the premises demonstrated the possibility that the culprit behind previous attacks are still free to continue to attack and provoke society with similar stunts in future. It is feared that these series of attacks and provocation, if left unchecked, will serve as fertile ground for further violence within the community of Malaysians.

Realizing the threat that this problem poses to our fragile democratic society, and understanding that Malaysian human rights are at stake and will be open to abuse, we submit this memorandum based on the following grounds:

1. The series of attack on the religious and worship sites is a violation to the community’s human right to exercise their religion in peace without unwanted interference and threat from agent provocateurs that are motivated by personal interest and gains. Freedom of religion does not only refer to freedom to adopt or profess a religion of one’s choice but also the assurance that their places of worship are respected.

2. Although we respect and uphold a person’s freedom of expression and opinion, the series of attack and provocation reflects malicious and excessive exercise of one’s freedom of expression at the expense of the rights of others. This is expressly condemned by Article 29 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 1948 where it states the following:

“…In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.”

3. The use of violence and show of disrespect towards another person’s religion or faith is the antithesis to human rights principles that condemns communalism, racism and intolerance. A further continuance of the series of provocation and attacks will threaten and negatively affect Malaysia’s democracy and culture of respecting human rights.

Therefore, we urge SUHAKAM to seriously look into the matter as the Commission is mandated to take charge and address human rights issues in the country

vide Section 4(i) of the Human Rights Commission Act 1999. It is saddening that SUHAKAM has not been vocal and upfront in addressing the issues of communalism, racism and religious intolerance as human rights issues that is of urgent concern to Malaysians. The decision of the International Coordinating Committee to retain the “A” status of the Commission should be reflected by the Commission’s actual commitment to address serious human rights violations in the country and this includes religious and racial issues. It is based on these grounds that we propose SUHAKAM take up the following actions in addressing the series of provocation against places of worship in the country:

1. SUHAKAM should conduct a National Inquiry into the series of provocation and attacks on places of worship and religious sites with the aim of investigating the root cause to the problem and to determine the appropriate rights-based solution or mechanism to address this issue.

2. SUHAKAM should engage the government and call for the enactment and passing of an anti-racial and religious intolerance law that will curb any attempts at instigating racial and religious hatred in the country. However, learning from experience, with the use of draconian laws such as ISA and Emergency Ordinance for arbitrary arrests and indefinite detention by the government, it is recommended that such law must be in accordance with principles of natural justice and rule of law.

3. SUHAKAM, together with other enforcement agencies in the country should observe and monitor growing attempts at the grassroots level that propagate racism and religious intolerance in order to curb any further potential provocations by irresponsible members of the society and also to preserve racial and religious harmony within the community. In addition to that, a proper impact assessment must be done by SUHAKAM to assess how the issue has threatened the community’s rights and wellbeing and negatively affected national unity and integrity.

4. SUHAKAM should continue to urge the government to ratify the International Covenant on Civil Political Rights (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Convention on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and to fulfill its obligations and commitment to other international human rights standards. The incidents that took place should be a reminder to the Commission and the governments on the need for the State to abide by human rights principles as a way to restore the public’s confidence that they will not be victimized and threatened by the perpetrators of chaos in the future.

We have observed that SUHAKAM has been silent on human rights issues that are intertwined with religious and racial concerns. This is a shame as the Human Rights Commission in other parts of the world have been very progressive in addressing issues of violence and discrimination that are motivated by racism and religious intolerance. We truly believe that the time has come for SUHAKAM to walk the talk and play its role effectively. The incidents that have happened should be a catalyst for SUHAKAM to go down to the grassroots and address the problem from a human rights viewpoint.








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