It was Benjamin Franklin who said in 1755 that “those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”, recalled Suhakam Chairman Razali Ismail in the keynote speech at the “Civil Society Conference on National Security” in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday.
Franklin’s simple phrase reminds everyone that the philosophy espoused by both rights and security advocates has been played throughout the centuries countless times, added Razali.
“Actors, be it from the Executive or Legislative, and certainly the participants of this Conference must play their part to ensure the balance does not tilt heavily towards the other end.”
The relationship between national security and human rights should always be in balance, he urged. “This is an important part of the Malaysian ethos.”
Suhakam, he said, advocates a mechanism of review as advocated by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the “Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism”.
The Report by the Special Rapporteur suggested that review of security and anti-terrorism laws should include the following, he said.
(a) Annual governmental review of and reporting on the exercise of powers under counter-terrorism laws;
(b) Annual independent review of the overall operations of counter terrorism laws;
(c) Annual governmental review of and reporting on the exercise of powers under counter-terrorism laws; and
(d) Periodic Parliamentary review.
There’s no mechanism to review any direction or order under the National Security Council Act (NSC Act), lamented Razali.
The Suhakam Chairman called upon the Legislature to play its role to review the NSC Act.
“While Malaysia is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), it is nevertheless bound by customary international law,” he warned. “This includes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
In short, cautioned Razali, the government cannot justify the broadly worded NSC Act as required for a state of emergency.
Suhakam also expressed regret that the Judiciary’s role has not been specifically mentioned in the NSC Act. For example, said Razali, there’s no mention whether individuals affected by.operations in a security area have the right to seek judicial review to ensure their rights are safeguarded.
The Judiciary are in the best position to ensure there’s proper checks and balances on any legislation, argued Razali. “As mentioned in the ‘Report of the Special Rapporteur’ any decisions which limit human rights must be overseen by the Judiciary”.
In this way they will remain lawful, proportionate and effective, in order to ensure the government was ultimately held responsible and accountable, summed up Razali.