'Uncle, follow me' dare for Suhakam chief - Malaysiakini
Fauwaz Abdul Aziz Feb 6, 08 4:54pm
"Uncle, I invite you to follow me to Parliament on Feb 16, 2008. If you follow me, the children and I will be safe and the people of Malaysia will understand the meaning of human rights better."
With this seemingly innocuous message, five-year-old W Vwaishhnnavi, who was clad in a pink dress, issued a challenge of sorts to Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) chairperson Abu Talib Othman.
The daughter of Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) chairperson P Waythamoorthy has placed the top man in the country’s official human rights watchdog in a wee bit of a spot.
While Suhakam has consistently called on the authorities to recognise the people’s right to expression and peaceful assemblies, never had its commissioners - or their chairperson - been asked to assert that stand by exercising such rights themselves by taking to the streets.
This was exactly what Vwaishhnnavi was asking Abu Talib to do on Feb 16 when she and about 200 flower-bearing children and their parents gather at Parliament House.
They seek to petition Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to release the five Hindraf leaders who have been detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA).
Apart from citing the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999, Vwaishhnnavi, in her letter (see below) to Abu Talib today, also quoted her father, a lawyer who is currently in self-imposed exile in London.
"My father said under (Section) 4(1), Uncle, you have (the) power to promote awareness and educate on human rights.
"Uncle, my father also said that under Section 4(2)(f) (of the Act) you have the power to follow me. So, please, uncle, come with me," she wrote.
Play a more active role
Among those who spoke on Vwaishhnnavi’s behalf in a meeting this morning to submit her letter to Abu Talib were Hindraf national coordinator RS Thanendran and Hindraf legal advisor N Surendran
On hand to receive the letter was Suhakam commissioner Dr Denison Jayasooria. About 30 other members and supporters of Hindraf were also on hand during the hour-long meeting at Suhakam headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.
Surendran called on Suhakam to take a more ‘active’ role in pursuing the cause of and protecting the human rights of Malaysians.
"We are asking that Suhakam play a more prominent role in protecting Malaysians from intimidation and oppression from the state," he said in reference to the police crackdown on a previous Hindraf gathering.
"We hope Suhakam will go beyond just sending letters and holding inquiries and issuing statements (and) show that Suhakam is at the forefront of the protection of human rights. We hope Suhakam will be there (on Feb 16) to assert the right to peacefully assemble," he added.
Putting the same point across, Thanendran also said among the objectives of the gathering at Parliament next month is to call for the release of the ‘Hindraf 5'.
He also reminded Denison that Suhakam itself had spoken against the ISA, which provides for detention without trial.
"We believe Suhakam will be just. We believe we will get justice in Suhakam," said Thanendran.
He also said despite the apparent 'concessions' the government has indirectly accorded to Hindraf’s demands for greater social and economic justice for the Indian community, Hindraf has itself been ignored as if it does not exist.
This includes the plea for Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to be on hand to receive the roses on Feb 16, said Thanendran.
Suhakam will deliberate
In response to the points raised, Denison said Suhakam has been consistent in its position that peaceful demonstrations and expressions are fundamental human rights that should be safeguarded.
He also said Suhakam maintained its stand that "ISA detentions and any forms of detention without trial" are violations of human rights.
The possibility of Suhakam actually participating in a gathering, however, was something that would have to be deliberated on by the commission as a whole.
Nevertheless, Denison said he would convey the invitation to Abu Talib.
He also vowed to raise with the commissioners in their next meeting a complaint by Surendran regarding police ‘harassment’ of Hindraf followers earlier this morning.
Surendran told Denison that police officers had, before the meeting, asked for the names and particulars of those at Suhakam.