Tan Sri Hasmy Agam
Chairman of Suhakam
President of the Malaysian Bar
Executive Director of Lawyers For Liberty
Executive Director of Suaram
Associate Prof Dr Johan Shamsuddin bin Hj Sabaruddin
Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya
Professor Gurdial Singh Nijar
Faculty of Law, University of Malaya
Ms Gwen Lee,
Campaigner at Amnesty International Malaysia
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today’s event may be coming to a close but this must not mark an end to our conversation. There is incredible value in spaces like these – spaces that encourage a meeting of the minds. But at the same time, we must ensure not to confine our discourse within these walls. These ideas should seep and trickle into everyday life, beyond the scope of our ‘official conferences’ and ‘official meetings’. We must engage on the issues that matter. It is my hope that today, we have created a platform for future dialogue and for the continued exchange of ideas.
Last year, Amnesty International published a global report called “Torture in 2014: 30 Years Of Broken Promises” released in conjunction with the movement’s two–year Stop Torture campaign. The survey polled 21, 221 citizens in 21 countries. We started asking questions that peered into the public consciousness, asking about individual perceptions of torture in their respective countries. In the 21 countries, which included Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea and India, less than half of the public – or 44 per cent – felt that they would be safe from torture if taken into the custody of the authorities in their respective countries. In the same report, 82 per cent of the people polled believed that there should be clear laws against torture.
Now consider this: Torture is under–reported. That is a simple, plain fact. The numbers are vague and ambiguous because around the world, governments smother the truth to hide incidences of torture. And despite this, the general public consensus tells us that people are fearful of being tortured in the custody of the authorities. People should not need to live in fear. As a global community, we need to move towards recognition of torture as a cruel, inhuman and most importantly, a criminal act that violates the international understanding and acceptance of human rights.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Inmates and detainees are locked behind bars and tucked away from the sight of society. Hidden, the actions of the police force and other authorities remain unknown, hence unquestioned. Hidden, inmates remain vulnerable to torture and cruel treatment with no means of voicing it. Imprisonment for a crime is not a warrant to disregard the rights of an individual.
Right here, right now, why do we need to address torture in Malaysia? Suaram reports that in 2015, there have been 9 cases of deaths in police custody – 6 in hospital, 1 in lock–up, 1 in prison and 1 in a detention centre, bringing the total number of deaths in police custody to 251 from the year 2000. Amnesty International Malaysia’s focus this year has been in joining the call for the establishment of a dedicated independent police oversight mechanism to tackle the issues of torture and deaths in police custody.
Incidences of torture and questionable deaths continue to permeate law enforcement agencies. You are probably aware of the recent ghastly discovery of mass graves between the borders of Thailand and Malaysia. Most of the bodies found have either been Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar or economic migrants from Bangladesh. In the past few months, a horror story began playing out at the Thai–Malaysia border. One hundred and thirty–nine graves of victims of human trafficking were discovered, after initial vehement denials of such camps on the Malaysian side. As this story unfolded, 12 police personnel were held on suspicion of having links to people–smuggling camps weeks before the Perlis police chief claimed there were no elements of foul play in 26 of the 139 human remains. Days later on June 22, when 21 bodies were laid to rest, the Home Minister revealed that causes of death included disease, starvation, torture and murder. What has happened and is happening to trafficking victims is barbaric. One of the many things this issue has exposed is how the police are unable to police themselves, and hence why we continue to advocate for the establishment of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission or IPCMC. Further, an Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience, Ali Abdul Jalil, who is facing three counts of sedition and was shuttled between police stations in Selangor and Johor in 2014, had alleged being punched in his stomach, slapped in his face, and hit on his leg with a baton and rubber pipe whilst detained at the Sungai Buloh prison. To date, Ali’s allegations of torture have not been investigated.
A system of accountability is the essence of the UN Convention Against Torture. At the local level, a signatory is required to implement mechanisms to address the issue of accountability in torture cases. At the global level, signatories to the convention would be held accountable to international values and standards against torture. Ratification of the Convention Against Torture and its Optional Protocol will signal the Malaysian government’s effort to eradicate torture, ensure that torturers are found out and brought to book as well as demonstrate the intention to protect from harm those deprived of their liberty.
The ratification of the UN CAT and its Optional Protocol will not mark a swift end to torture practices, but it will demonstrate a government’s firm commitment to put an end to a deplorable practice which has existed for far too long. Ratifying the Convention will also put a spotlight on domestic laws and their compatibility with the treaty obligations. The US Senate just last week amended its National Defense Authoritisation Act, or NDAA, to ban US officials from using torture techniques including mock executions, sexual humiliation, hooding prisoners and waterboarding. The amendment to the NDAA is largely attributed to distressing reports which revealed torture practices by the Central Intelligence Agency, or CIA – a laudable move in the effort to wipe out state–sanctioned torture.
Ladies and gentlemen,
What remains crucial is Malaysia’s commitment to eradicate state–sanctioned, state–approved, state–supported torture. Malaysia remains one of about 30 countries in the world that has not ratified the UN Convention Against Torture. It is almost mind–boggling that any government would not want to assure its citizens and the global community that it would not ill–treat, degrade, cause harm or inflict torture its people. Make no mistake, torturers are international outlaws. A robust international legal framework has been built up with the Convention Against Torture and over 150 countries are state parties to this UN Convention. This is real and meaningful progress. We want the Malaysian government to protect people within its borders, be it citizens or non. The culture of impunity must end.
To bring forth the evil of torture that happens in the world, Amnesty International Malaysia is today highlighting two cases under our Stop Torture campaign, this year themed “Never alone, never forgotten”. The Stop Torture campaign is an Amnesty campaign which now continues in Malaysia under the umbrella of the ACT4CAT:
– Yecenia Armenta, is a 39 year old woman from Mexico. In 2012, Yecenia was tortured for 15 hours by the Mexican police. They hung her upside–down naked, beat her and raped her. She was asphyxiated with a plastic bag over her head, and her torturers only stopped at times she was about to lose consciousness. Mexican police forced Yecenia to sign a confession while blindfolded, and charged her for the murder of her husband – a charge she denies. Medics who were sent to examine her worked for the same office as her torturers and failed to record her injuries. Three years later, she remains in jail.– Dave Enriquez is a bakery worker from the Philippines. In 2012, he was arrested and accused of stealing two roosters – a charge he denies. In the police station, Dave, who suffers from learning difficulties, was not allowed to contact his lawyer or family. Instead, four policemen took turns to beat him with a wooden paddle, pound his fingers with a stapler and banged his head against the metal gate of a cell. Three years later, no person has ever been held responsible for torturing Dave.
For Yecenia and Dave, we are asking you to lend your support in bringing justice to them both by signing our petitions available at our exhibition booth outside the auditorium, as well as on our website, amnesty.my and our social media platforms.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Amnesty International Malaysia is honoured to be partnering with the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, the Malaysian Bar, Lawyers For Liberty and Suaram in this ACT4CAT Campaign, to advocate for Malaysia to ratify the UN Convention Against Torture and its Optional Protocol without delay. With the act of ratification, Malaysia would declare that it will no longer tolerate acts of torture and demonstrate solidarity with other members of the global community. AI Malaysia calls on the Malaysian government to recognise that it has the primary responsibility to strengthen the protection of people deprived, and to establish and implement effective safeguards against torture as a route to change. These include key safeguards implemented at the time of arrest, in detention, within the judicial process, during questioning and after a detainee is released.
In line with this call, Amnesty International Malaysia is launching a petition calling on the Malaysian government to ratify the UN Convention Against Torture. This initiative will run from today and conclude in December. The petitions are available on amnesty.my as well as on our social media platforms. We will announce the results of this petition in December.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In conclusion, please allow me to put on record my heartfelt thanks to our partners – Suhakam, the Malaysian Bar, Suaram, Lawyers For Liberty, my colleagues at AI Malaysia and to every person who has worked to put this ACT4CAT Campaign together.
Thank you very much for your kind attention.