A test of the govt’s will to ensure justice for minorities

The Sri Lankan police must be commended for arresting its top cop and a former defence chief for dereliction of duty which resulted in the Easter bombings that killed 258 people.  It reflects its government’s commitment to bring to justice those who were responsible for the needless death of its citizens.

Inspector-General Pujith Jayasundara and former defence secretary Hemasiri Fernando were arrested after Attorney General Dappula de Livera said “their failure to heed security warnings amounted to a crime against humanity” the media reportedHe described the police’s lack of action despite advance warnings of the terrorist attacks as “criminal negligence”.

Very clearly the Sri Lankan action against its top cop and former defence secretary is a demonstration of its will to hold its leaders responsible for failing to protect its citizens.

In Malaysia, the state, and specifically the Special Branch, was implicated in an equally heinous crime against humanity — the enforced disappearance of two Malaysian citizens — but the current Pakatan Harapan (Pakatan) government is seemingly dragging its feet about investigating and exposing the leaders responsible.

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) had in April concluded that Perlis activist Amri Che Mat and Pastor Raymond Koh were “victims of enforced disappearances” by the state, specifically the Special Branch.

No doubt that the government has in response to the Suhakam findings set up a six-member task force to start investigating Amri’s disappearance first, but the composition of the task force does not indicate its commitment to neutrality and objectivity.

The task force will have to investigate the police, specifically Special Branch, but it has two policemen on it — although one has resigned as a result of public protests. It belies logic that policemen would be tasked to investigate policemen involving civilians. Will the investigations be fair?

Perhaps, the Home Minister feels that this is a sensitive issue as it involves religion and the police force and both need to be protected for fear of a backlash from the Muslim community. In an issue such as this which, in fact, is state-supported terrorism, the government needs to rise above religious parochialism and make a clear stand that enforced disappearances will be dealt with seriously and severely and the perpetrators brought to book.

It would restore public trust in the police force. The public, whether Muslim or not, will be watching closely how the government handles this issue. The public will want to know if public institutions will put the protection of civilians above powerful interests who are able to manipulate such institutions for their own specific agendas.

This is not a religious issue. It’s an issue of holding public institutions accountable to the people, not special interests.

If the reason for an all-Muslim task force is because Amri is said to have been involved in Shia Muslim activities and hence it is a religious issue and Muslims want to deal with Muslim religious issues, that is understandable. If that were the case, it would lend credibility to the task force to include someone with an understanding of Shia Islam to offer that perspective in deliberations. That would be fair to Amri.

But the task force does not have such a member and still has Bukit Aman’s Integrity and Standard Compliance Department director as a member even though the other former cop on it has resigned. If it were an internal issue involving policemen, cops can investigate cops. But, when it involves a civilian, there must be strict adherence to objectivity and neutrality and in this case, there should be no cop on the task force.

The task force investigating Koh’s disappearance must also include, at least, one Christian representative to provide the Christian perspective so that Koh is seen in an unbiased light.

This is a very serious issue on integrity. If the government is not seen as being fair and just to differences and diversity, even among the majority group, I believe, it will erode public support for the Pakatan government. If all the details in the enforced disappearances are not exposed and those culpable are not held accountable, it would lead to a loss of support particularly in East Malaysia which has a sizeable Christian population.

The result will be that the Pakatan government will not get support from independents and non-Pakatan Members of Parliament who represent minority interests, including Muslim minority interests, for a two-thirds majority to pass bills in Parliament. Right now, it is these MPs who can give the two-thirds support. They will want to know if the government can be trusted to be fair and just with regard to minority issues or whether — as usual — these will be sacrificed to appease the majority.

An objective and neutral task force acting swiftly to expose the true perpetrators of this crime will be proof that the Pakatan government can be trusted to be fair with minority interests.

 

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