Press Statements

Suhakam And Bar Council Must Not Shirk Joint Responsibility To Ensure Freedom Of Assembly In New Malaysia

The Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in the UPR Process (MACSA) is deeply concerned to note that the organisers and participants in the planned rally against the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) to be held this coming weekend remain without any official external monitors of their human right to peacefully assemble nor are able to accept any offers of legal advice in the safeguarding of such a right.

This is despite the green light for the rally issued by the relevant authorities such as the Police and the Kuala Lumpur Assembly Hall (DBKL) and is so glaringly absent it has spurred our former Attorney-General, Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali, to step in with offers of free legal aid for would be participants of that rally.

MACSA asks how this can be possible given that Malaysia has undergone change a mere few months earlier and we are supposedly in a new era. In the search for answers, we conclude that blame for this lies surely and squarely upon the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) and the executive body of the Malaysian Bar, namely the Bar Council.

The reason for this is that both these bodies have to this day yet to comply with their duties ensuring the free and fair exercise of fundamental liberties, including free speech and assembly in Malaysia, by issuing any statement affirming the right of organisers of the anti-ICERD to hold a rally at Dataran Merdeka this coming 8 December. Neither does there appear to be any initiative being taken by the Bar Council to recruit volunteer lawyers to monitor the rally, as was the case with previous rallies such as those organised by Bersih 2.0.

We recall the previous statement made by one of our founding members, the Centre for Human Rights Research & Advocacy (CENTHRA) on 18 November 2016 deploring the double standards and blatant favouritism displayed by these two professional bodies in their differentiating Bersih rally goers from that of the Himpunan Merah.

Therein CENTHRA called upon them to abandon such hypocrisy and reaffirm the right of both Bersih and the red shirts universal and equal right of free speech and assembly as protected by Articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 10(1) of our Constitution and offer their full aid and support to both parties without any distinction having due regard to the principle of equality before the law per Article 8(1) of the Constitution.

Their response was to shirk their statutory and moral duties to uphold the right to free speech and assembly provided for by law, turn a blind eye and ignore ours and as well as the voices of other civil society movements agitating for greater respect and equal application of rights for all without distinction. They instead continued their blatant disregard for equal treatment under the law, leading to the rakyat’s disgust with their business as usual approach which in turn provided the impetus for change of government at the watershed 14th General Election earlier this year.

But it appears that this amounted to nought as despite us being more than six months into this, these two law based entities charged by their own creation statutes with the defence of civil liberties (section 4(1) of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 in the case of SUHAKAM and section 42(1)(a) in the case of the Bar Council), in particular speech and assembly have not changed or have not yet awoken to the new rights based reality that characterises our New Malaysia. This is very much regrettable and is deeply and thoroughly to be condemned.

MACSA accordingly thus reminds SUHAKAM and the Bar Council of their responsibility to ensure that the fruits of New Malaysia can be enjoyed by all Malaysians without regard to any distinction of any kind by calling upon them to offer their services in affirming and safeguarding the right of participants to rally against the ICERD come this December 8th. Let them not shirk their responsibility in this regard to the point where the rakyat are forced to express their disgust at inaction for a second time.



Azril Mohd Amin, Chief Executive, CENTHRA and Chairperson, MACSA or the Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Process.

Associate Professor Dr. Rafidah Hanim Mokhtar, President of The International Women’s Alliance for Family Institution and Quality Education (WAFIQ) and Co-Chairperson, The Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations (MACSA).

The Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Process (MACSA) is a coalition of civil society organisations with the specific aim and object to look into, as well as advocate, human rights issues in Malaysia for the UPR Process.

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