Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Avenues for justice for MH17

Brave New World (The Star)
23 July 2014

Suspects can be tried under the principle of universal jurisdiction and if it can be shown that a government was responsible, via the principles of state responsibility, they too can be held accountable.

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THIS is what I know. Malaysia Airlines is not to blame for the deaths of the people on MH17.
The aircraft was flying on a route deemed safe by the authorities. I also know that it is beyond arrogance to presume the deaths of innocents were the result of God’s wrath. Who are these people who think they have an insight into God’s intentions?
This is what I know. A missile shot down MH17.
Somewhere out there, someone or a group of people have killed close to three hundred people. I also know that the scene of the crime has been tainted, probably beyond any salvation, by a group of thugs with automatic rifles.
These thugs have kept investigators away from the site and they have been belligerent and threatening to those whose job is to simply find out exactly what happened. I also know that Russia has been recalcitrant to the extreme.
In a situation like this, one would have thought that allowing independent investigators to the site would be a given. But instead, there had to be a special meeting of the United Nations Security Council called to come out with a declaration that such access has to be allowed.
And Russia, a permanent member of the council, had to be dragged by its stubborn heels before it would agree. Even then, there is still great uncertainty whether this agreement will be reflected by real cooperation on the ground.
At the time of writing, Malaysia is supposed to have received the aircraft’s black boxes, and the remains of those who died are supposed to be on the way back so that their families can lay them to rest.
I hope that the black boxes will be examined properly by experts. Not only to extract the information that they hold, but also to determine whether they have been tampered with.
For days they have been in the control of those who are, in all bluntness, suspects of this horrific crime. One is entitled to be cautious as to the integrity of these pieces of equipment.
Much has been said about the Prime Minister’s supposed timidity in the face of this catastrophe. This may be true, but in a way I am quite sympathetic with his dilemma.
We are a small country with very little clout. The bodies of our dead were in the hands of militarised thugs; the black boxes, so important in the search for the truth, were in the hands of the same people. Antagonising such people may not have been the wisest thing to do.
But now that we have the boxes and that we have the bodies of the deceased, it is time to think about what can be done. It is fairly clear in my mind that an international crime has been committed.
Unfortunately, neither Malaysia, Ukraine or Russia have ratified the Rome Statute and are thus not members of the International Criminal Court. This means that one avenue for justice is problematic, but it does not mean that there aren’t any ­others.
The crime committed can be classified as a crime against humanity and as such gives rise to universal jurisdiction. This means if suspects can be found and apprehended, they can be tried anywhere in the world.
Other grounds of jurisdiction also exist in international law. Trying those responsible for this barbaric act is not difficult.
Neither is such action limited only to those who pulled the trigger. If it can be shown that a government was responsible in some way, for example by the provision of the weapons used to commit homicide, then via the principles of state responsibility, they too can be held accountable.
I can’t imagine the pain and the heartbreak felt by the friends and families of those who died. I will not even try to say some words of comfort for it can only sound hollow.
What I will say is this: there are avenues open to try to find justice. Lord knows that in this world, justice is not necessarily a given. The wicked get away too often. But we must try. For the sake of those we lost, we must try.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Negara-Ku Initiative

Sin Chew Jit Poh
20 July 2014

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The Negara-Ku initiative has been receiving quite a lot of press recently. Fundamentally it is a group of NGOs which have got together with the specific purpose of providing a voice against racism and religious extremism. To counter such practices, they propose that there is a return to good governance, democratic practices and the rule of law.

It is all very basic and simple and I can’t see how any right minded person can oppose it. I guess that is the key term: “right minded”. This is because there are plenty without that quality. Already we see accusations that the group is anti-Malay and anti-Islam. Of course such accusations are completely and utterly without any evidence to show how this can be so.

 
Then there are the usual accusations that the Negara-Ku initiative is really a Pakatan lobby in disguise. Again there is no evidence proffered to such a claim. But then, what else can one expect. If people are actively against non-discrimination and religious tolerance; then logic can’t really be their strong point. To paraphrase the song: “what’s so wrong about peace love and understanding”?

 
One of the challenges about being a liberal is that we respect the right of all people to have their view and to express it. This is very different from the fascists in our midst who are more than happy to shut people up if they don’t agree with them.  So, we must endure the utter rubbish that is spewed by the small minded, and patiently prove them wrong. Ignoring them is not an option. Many in pre-war Germany ignored Hitler as a joke, and see what happened there.

 
I am afraid that bigots and racists must continuously be stood up to, no matter how tiring and boring it gets. The alternative is to give the impression that their worldview is the accepted worldview and this is intolerable.
 
This brings me to another criticism of the Negara-Ku initiative. There are those who, although they agree with the sentiments of the group are questioning the need for its existence. I can see the logic to this criticism because there are lots of NGO’s and NGO coalitions which already speak out for equality and tolerance.


However, to my knowledge, Negara-Ku is specifically and only about this particular issue. It is not really bogged down by election reform, or education, or legal changes, as such. It is there to simply provide a counterpoint to the extremists in the country.

 
And this is very important because the people in Malaysia who are right minded are desperately looking for a voice to speak up against these destructive forces in our country. Not everyone has access to write in the newspaper or to be on television, but this does not mean they do not worry about what is happening to this country of ours.

 
An initiative as focussed as Negara-Ku, specifically dealing with racism and bigotry, and putting up a united front against those who threaten to drive our country into the gutter, is an absolute necessity. This is because like I said earlier, bigots and racists must be faced down and secondly, the good people of this country must know that they are being faced down. Without a concerted opposition to these dark forces, many will lose hope.

 
It is for these reasons that I endorse the Negara-Ku initiative.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Questions about kidex

Brave New World (The Star)
9 July 2014

The Selangor state government is only holding meetings with residents after laying the groundwork for compulsory acquisition.

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WHEN the North South Highway was proposed, there was some serious opposition to it. In fact, there was a famous case as a result: a case that had far-reaching consequences in law. But that is not the point of this article.
I remember at the time that I was not supportive of the voices against the highway. I was very young then of course and I am sure many of the arguments went over my head, but fundamentally, I was in favour of it.
This was because ultimately, the new road would cut travel time between Penang and Kuala Lumpur by half.
And if any of you remember the tortuous seven hours of travel this journey used to take, the painful crawls as you moved at 40km an hour behind overladen lorries, then the improvement was really quite welcome.
However, not all road projects are that obviously beneficial. Take this Kinrara-Damansara Expressway (Kidex) proposal. It is supposed to link Kinrara to Damansara. With apologies to residents of Kinrara, I always thought that part of town rather sounds like a Japanese cartoon: “Sergeant Kinrara and the Kinrara Platoon”, or something like that. Anyway, this new highway, sorry, skyway, we are told will ease traffic flow by 3% to 5%. Excuse me?
The residents of large chunks of Petaling Jaya will have to face heaven knows how many years of madness-inducing building works; the disappearance of their property values; the compulsory acquisition of their homes; environmental degradation; and the permanent scarring of their town with hideously ugly concrete tentacles; and all this for 3% to 5%?
That simply does not make any sense. But what makes even less sense to me is that this project has the complicity of the Selangor state government. A government that is under the control of the Pakatan Rakyat, which in case they have forgotten stands for People’s Alliance. And as befitting their name, the alliance has promised a more people-centric approach to governance.
This being so, then it looks like at least in this case, they seem to have forgotten that. Granted, the project is proposed by the Federal Government, but the state government has to approve it in principle first for the project to go ahead. Were the people consulted before this approval was given?
And we know it has been given. Furthermore, they have gone so far as to lay the groundwork for compulsory acquisition as the necessary gazetting has been done, something only the state government can do. It looks like they are all ready to go.
Which makes the meetings with residents now seem to be a stage show. First and foremost, it should have been done before any decision is made, not after. By having meetings now, at best, it means that they may change their minds. At worst it is window dressing to make themselves look good, without actually changing anything.
There are many problems with the way development is conducted in this country. For example, in my view, the Environmental Impact Assessment system we have has many serious flaws.
I understand that the Pakatan state government can’t do anything about that. But they had it in their power to introduce practices and policies, which do not need legislation, to bring people into the decision-making process for projects with such a huge impact such as this one. For example, have proper consultations with residents before making their decisions.
I finish with a reproduction of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration of which Malaysia is a signatory.
Environmental issues are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level. At the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by the public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes. States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available. Effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, shall be provided.
Nothing that they have done with regard to the Kidex skyway indicates an adherence to this principle. I expected better.

Political Interference in Academia

Sin Chew Jit Poh
5 July 2014

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In late June Professor Redzuan Othman resigned as Head of the University Malaya Centre for Democracy and Elections (UMcedel) and according to former Deputy Minister for Higher Education Saifuddin Abdullah, this was due to pressure from the government.
 
So far there is no hard evidence of this fact, for example a letter from the Ministry of Education to the Vice Chancellor of UM with instructions to fire Professor Redzuan. However, I see no reason to not believe what Saifuddin has claimed. If what he said is true, then what we have here is a very clear case of the government interfering in university matters.
 
The reason for this is because apparently they are unhappy with some of the findings of UMcedel, namely those which show that most Malaysians in the last general elections were happier with the Pakatan Rakyat manifesto and that most were in favour of Anwar Ibrahim being Prime Minister. As it turned out the results of the elections seem to validate the findings of the UMcedel because the popular vote was very much in Pakatan’s favour.
 
Be that as it may, this incident raises several issues. Firstly, if there was an order from the government that Professor Redzuan steps down then this is clearly an attack on academic freedom. Academics must be allowed to do their work (teaching and research) without any fear of interference from outside forces, no matter who they might be.
 
The reason for this is so that the work will not be tainted by any interested party and remains as impartial as possible. Once people suspect government of interfering in academic affairs then the credibility of the organisation will suffer.
 
I worry very much for UMcedel because no matter what they do from now on, there will be the suspicion that they are not independent because the perception will be that the government can control them. This is such a shame for the academics who work in this centre. For through no fault of their own, they now face an uphill task at convincing the public at large that their work is sound.
 
The government must understand also that an independent academia is necessary and beneficial for the whole country. Impartial and academically sound research findings are of much more value than any research done with a particular agenda. Research done with good methodology and ethical standards will bring us closer to the truth and this is good for everyone.
 
Even if the truth hurts; for example like when UMcedel stated that the public seemed to be in favour of Pakatan, then what the government should have done is to take that research finding and try to improve matters. Disputing the finding is akin to an ostrich hiding its head in the sand and such denial will achieve nothing.
 
This government keeps talking about university rankings and how it wants Malaysian universities to be world class. Yet it does not appear to be able to grasp the simple concept that world class universities need to operate within certain conditions and those are primarily academic freedom and autonomy. Interfering in university matters undermines both these principles and unless and until they stop doing it and also actively protect academic independence and autonomy, then its best to not talk about world class universities because obviously they don’t understand what that term means.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Thugs allowed to set agenda

Brave New World (The Star)
25 June 2014

All I see is a darkness populated by the shrill screeching of the hatemongers, but it does not need to be like this.

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MALAYSIA is turning into a hateful country
Hate; it is such an ugly word. Yet I can’t think of anything else to describe what is happening here, the land where I am to spill my blood.
But then, why should I care? I am after all an intruder and immigrant.
Yes, I realise that when the racists speak about intruders and immigrants, they mean non-Malay intruders and immigrants; this despite the fact that many so-called Malays are actually of foreign origin. But I am not a hypocrite like them.
I know my roots and they spread to Yemen, to Medan, to Singapore. I wasn’t even born here. Yet I believe that I have as much right to be here as anyone else and my fellow Malaysians have just as much right as me.
And still the question remains: why should I care?
I don’t have the answer to that question because I am not a very philosophical man. Yet I know this; I have no desire to live in the Yemen, or Medan or Singapore.
And as much as I loved my significant time in England, I always knew that I would come home. And home is here, Malaysia.
Forgive the overly sentimental tangent this article is taking, but I am trying to make sense of my world as I write. It is hard to be purely analytical when one’s home is being slowly destroyed by the bigoted, small-minded, cruel and vicious.
This place is my home because I grew up here. My memories and therefore my identity are tied up to this place.
My tastes, my relationships, my way of thinking, in short everything that makes me the individual that I am, are due to this place.
But what kind of place is it now? It looks to me like the kind of place where the vicious can threaten to behead people, where those who are meant to be the final arbiters are unwilling or incapable of making judgments based on the principles they have sworn to uphold.
It is a place where cowardly leaders think only of their votes and not of making a stand against vile people and their vile deeds.
There is so much going on which is going to affect our basic needs of hearth and security. While the wheels of capitalism turn, we the ordinary folk are going to find it harder and harder to just make ends meet.
Yet we allow thugs to set the agenda. We allow non-issues to become national debating points. We allow the vicious to go on screaming malicious words with God on their lips and hatred in their hearts.
All this when we are living in a country with so much potential and wealth. If we can ensure that the truly needy, regardless of their creed or colour are protected and helped; if we can move our education system towards one where we produce thinking people and not well-educated automatons; if we can create a government in all its guises which is dedicated to honesty and the rule of law.
If we can do all these things, then the future will be more secure for all of us. It is there, within reach.
Instead there appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel and all I see is a darkness populated by the shrill screeching of the hatemongers.
It does not need to be like this. If the face of this country is as twisted and ugly to you as it is to me, we can still do something.
We can challenge our elected representatives into a corner. Force them to tell us where they stand.
We can support the downtrodden. We can gather together in huge numbers to make a stand not for any political reason, but to show the bigots that they are not the only ones in this land and that their cruel philosophies are not welcome.
We can think for ourselves and not simply allow those with so-called authority to dictate our thoughts for us. We can be fearless in deed, words and thoughts to uphold the values that surely any country needs to hang on to – fairness, compassion, kindness, freedom and justice.
This country is becoming so hateful; that is true. But I am not yet ready to hate it. Are you?