Citizens Against Enforced Disappearances (Caged) congratulates Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob for creating the position of special adviser for law and human rights and for appointing Azalina Othman Said to this position.
This signals that his government cares about human rights and is keen to improve Malaysia’s appalling record in many aspects of human rights which are enshrined in UN and other international standards.
We welcome the choice of Azalina. Over two decades, she has worn many hats. She has practised law, hosted a serious talk show on television and held positions of increasing responsibility in Umno. She has served as youth and sports minister, tourism minister and minister in charge of law and Parliament in the Prime Minister’s Office. More recently, she served well in the Select Committee on Bills (which reviewed the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Bill) and as Deputy Speaker of Parliament.
In her ministerial roles, Azalina demonstrated a good grasp of facts and respect for the opposition, while exercising confident and effective leadership. In debates and public comments, she has shown sensitivity to the level of enjoyment of human rights in Malaysia, the aspirations of Malaysians and global benchmarks.
In a difficult political climate, Azalina has stood out as a serious advocate of parliamentary democracy, has called for firm action in cases of abuse of children, and for judicious reform of the Attorney General’s Chambers.
We urge all ministers, backbenchers and members of the opposition to treat Azalina’s appointment as a signal of acceptance by the government of her call for the formation of a parliamentary caucus on reform. This caucus of parliamentarians, drawn from all parties, is exactly what we need to ensure that the agenda of institutional reforms is not forgotten or delayed. (We are pleased to note that a significant part of the agenda is now found in Parliament’s website as the memorandum of understanding for political transformation and stability, signed by the government and Pakatan Harapan.)
We call for generous support and funding for Azalina’s work, which must include visits to places of detention – which have been underfunded, stretched and abused – and must include gathering and analysis of data followed by the generation of solutions and recommendations for action.
We encourage Azalina to prioritise institutions which have been much in the news for all the wrong reasons. We call out the following:
- The police, which has been criticised by its own top leaders (such as former inspector general Hamid Bador and current Johor police chief Ayob Khan), coroners and judges, statutory bodies (such as Suhakam and the Bar Council) and many others. Areas of concern are overuse of remand, deaths and abuse in custody, enforced disappearances (the cases of Pastor Raymond Koh and Amri Che Mat are well documented) and a culture of impunity. There is a crying need to restore pride in the force. There is a crying need for independent, empowered oversight of the police – two essential ingredients in the independent police complaints and misconduct commission, mooted 16 years ago by the Dzaiddin Commission. Serious attention should also be given to establishing state police forces independent of the federal police – as has long been the practice in federations such as Australia and the US
- The Immigration Department, which has brought great disrepute to our nation through well-publicised revelations of abuse of detention powers, extended detention in ill-suited premises, and disregard for international norms in respect of repatriation. We note also that many concerns have been raised about the abuse of migrant workers, and there have even been suggestions that the high incidence of trafficking is due to abuse and misuse of immigration powers
- Detention centres, including lock-ups and prisons, which have become hotspots of disease and distress, both for detainees and their jailers. It is a matter of great dismay that those who work in detention centres are constantly anxious about contracting skin diseases, leptospirosis (caused by exposure to rat urine) and tuberculosis. And that they are constantly anxious they may have to respond to medical emergencies despite the lack of support infrastructure and training
Azalina’s work (she is known for frenzied activity), if well supported, has the potential to deliver rapid results in the areas we have pointed out. We wish her well. – Caged