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Independent, impartial members essential to special taskforce’s credibility

Family members of Raymond Koh and Amri Che Mat

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The Malaysian Bar has welcomed the decision by the Royal Malaysia Police’s former legal unit chief Moktar Mohd Noor to withdraw from the special taskforce set up to probe enforced disappearances.

In “Malaysia Baharu”, the nation has increasing expectations of the authorities to uphold, adhere to and deliver higher standards of integrity, transparency and accountability across all facets of civil and public life.

Thus, conflicts of interest in the public sector – if not managed properly – could severely undermine the integrity of and trust in public agencies and its officials, decisions of authorities as well as the government as a whole.

It is for this reason that the Malaysian Bar welcomes and commends the decision of the Royal Malaysia Police’s former legal unit chief Moktar Mohd Noor to withdraw from the special taskforce which was established by Home Affairs Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to probe into the enforced disappearances of Perlis activist Amri Che Mat and Pastor Raymond Koh Keng Joo.

The personal responsibility undertaken by Moktar to resolve the issue raised by numerous parties with regard to his appointment to the special taskforce exemplifies accountability in action, setting a sound example for all to follow.

This is particularly important given the alarming finding unanimously reached by members of the panel of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) in the public inquiry into the disappearance of Amri and Koh – that both men were the victims of enforced disappearance at the hands of the Special Branch of the headquarters of the Royal Malaysia Police in Bukit Aman.

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Enforced disappearance is a grave affront to the human conscience and has been described as “one of the most painful crimes against humanity … a source of unimaginable pain for many families who often lived their lives without knowing what had happened to their loved ones” (Tenth Anniversary of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, UN General Assembly, 71st session).

This serious indictment has manifestly eroded public confidence in our criminal justice system.

Justice must be meted out and the perpetrators made to account for their actions.

Only concrete and clear action – such as the establishment of an independent police complaints and misconduct commission (IPCMC) as well as a special taskforce that is independent, impartial and fully empowered to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the enforced disappearance cases – will alleviate public fear and anxiety, instil confidence in the safety and security of this country and its people, and gradually restore the stature and standing of the police force.

In light of these, the composition of the special taskforce is of paramount importance that must be given its due. The special taskforce must consist of “independent investigators” and “in the event there is any conflict of interest, they ought not to be appointed” (Final decision, Suhakam inquiry panel).

Regard must be had to “persons who have no current or past connections” with the criminal investigations conducted into the enforced disappearance cases or with any current or past member of the authorities involved therein.

Any finding made by a taskforce whose members could be affected by issues of their participation in the Suhakam inquiry panel, conflict of interest and partiality, would be inadvertently tainted in the public eye – its deliberations questionable and lacking credibility.

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On this note therefore, we welcome the recent appointments of Azian Umar from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and Roger Tan Kor Mee, who is a member of the Bar Council and the Malaysian Bar, to the special taskforce.

The withdrawal of Moktar and these recent appointments are a step towards restoring public trust in the special taskforce, which must demonstrate its commitment in getting to the bottom of the enforced disappearance cases and leaving no stone unturned in fulfilling its mandate.

It will be through its actions that the legitimacy and credibility of the special taskforce will find its place in the hearts and minds of the people, even as we call for justice to be done and to be seen to be done for Amri, Koh and their loved ones.

It is also extremely urgent that the terms of reference of the special taskforce, which do not appear to be in the public domain, be made available publicly.

Abdul Fareed Abdul Gafoor is president of the Malaysian Bar.

This piece dated 11 July 2019 is reproduced from here and has been edited for style only. 

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