A UN Special Rapporteur, Maina Kiai, says that the Malaysian government must realise that public assemblies are good for all parties.
KUALA LUMPUR September 8, 2012: Public assemblies are beneficial to the government as they would allow the administration to know how the people feel, said United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Maina Kiai.
Speaking at a forum here today, Kiai, from Kenya, said that attempts to clamp down on people’s right to express may pose “risk of having uncivilised forms of dialogues” instead.
“Civilised dialogue is when you say something, I listen to you; we have an exchange, which leads to a positive that serves the greater good. Uncivilised [dialogue] is the opposite,”
he later explained after the forum about the right to assemble.
Kiai said that protests, regardless of whether they favoured the government stand or not, should not only be tolerated but encouraged.
“Counter-protests are well accepted. Like if you felt something against what Bersih is doing, then by all means, please go ahead and protest. We want to encourage that,” he said.
However, he cautioned that counter-protests should not be held on the same day as it could potentially lead to problems such as clashes.
He said that a worrying trend currently occurring was that the state would tend to make certain individuals (organisers) responsible for the things that might have gone wrong in a rally.
“The state exists to protect all people, regardless of whether it is the people it doesn’t like. You can’t transfer that responsibility to others,” he said, adding that he would be more than happy to personally provide technical training to the local police on ways to facilitate assemblies.
Kiai, who repeatedly stressed that assemblies should be facilitated rather than controlled, cited examples in other countries where the police actually led a street protest, and in some instances, even deployed outriders in a front of a protesting group.
“The challenge for the state is to treat controversial gatherings the same way it would treat gatherings such as for breast cancer or [something less sensitive],” he said.
Kiai also said that civil servants and employees of corporations should be encouraged to go out and protest.
A fundamental right
“The same way where a civil servant can vote, a civil servant can also protest. It is a fundamental right. They can, and they should. They shouldn’t be punished for it. Corporations should also be encouraged [to ask their employees to participate], and not be victimised for it,” he said.
Jointly organised by Bar Council and Suaram, the forum was entitled “Right to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association: International Standards and Good Practices”.
Also at the forum as panellists were criminal lawyer Baljit Singh Sidhu, Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) secretary-general and veteran activist S Arutchelvan, and Suhakam commissioner Muhammad Sha’ani Abdullah. Bar Council human rights committee co-chair Andrew Khoo moderated.
Baljit criticised the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012, which he said was bulldozed through by the government in Parliament. “It looks beautiful from afar, but it is far from beautiful,” he said after dissecting the sections that “didn’t make sense”.
“Assemblies are needed, because just like a pressure cooker, we need holes or channels for us to let out,” he said.
He said that the government currently treated “human rights” as a term akin to a “problem, disease, or issue”.
“I feel that everybody, from the ministers to members of parliament to lawyers should go through a course on human rights and what it means,” he said.