Time for the Nation to seek Transitional Justice

While PM Abdullah has pledged listening to truth and implementing reforms, he has failed to right the wrongs in the past and dismantle repressive mechanisms and structures. Meanwhile, the on-going power struggle between the former strongman and present administration has given a new breath for the society’s demand for just institutions. Therefore, CRC believes the time has come for the nation to revisit the dark years in Malaysian democracy. Unless and until we do this, we may mature as a country and a people.

Under the Operasi Lalang in 1987, one hundred and six Malaysians active in politics and civil society were detained, some up to 541 days.The state detained them under the Internal Security Act but failed to prosecute any of them with evidence of them harming national security. This speaks volumes of how the state apparatus have been abused for political witch-hunt. Three newspapers, The Star, Sin Chew Jit Poh and Watan were also suspended. In 1988, the Mahathir Administration amended the Article 121(1) to divest the court of the “judicial power of the Federation”, resulting in the controversial sacking of Lord President Tun Salleh Abas and subsequently Supreme Court Judges Wan Suleiman and George Seah. And Malaysia’s Judiciary suffered an irreparable damage to its independence.

These encroachments of rule of law, erosion of check and balance and violations of human rights paved the way for worse degeneration of Malaysian democracy after the East Asian financial crisis.

We are now at the cross road on the way to democratization. Simply because the shadow of authoritarianism has refused to fade away, re-examine and correct historical injustices is the first step towards a breakaway with our dark past and the beginning of a bright future. Malaysians of all generations have every right to know the truth in these two crises, how state power has been abused and rule of law compromised to serve the power-that-be. We need to diagnose the ills so that we may cure, prevent and heal. All victims and their families of these power abuses, whether alive or dead, deserve justice which may be delayed but must not be denied.

CRC calls upon the nation to start the discussion for transitional justice. Transitional justice is attained in democratizing societies when suppressed individuals and groups may seek redress for the sufferings they experienced under authoritarian institutions via fact-finding, compensations and correction of the wrongs. Establishing “Truth Commission” is therefore urgently needed. If PM Abdullah can demonstrate the moral courage to have a clear break with Mahathir’s suppressive mechanism, his battle with the former strongman will no longer be merely one of personalities, but rather with the historical significance of one that ends authoritarianism.

Mr. Ser Choon Ing
Chairman of Civil Rights Committee (CRC), KLSCAH.2006

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