Thursday, 13 September 2012

UN special rapporteur pans Peaceful Assembly Act

United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to peaceful assembly and association Maina Kiai has expressed his disappointment over the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 (PAA), which was passed in a huff in Parliament last November.

According to him, there are areas in the controversial legislation which fail to meet international human rights standards.

"The law is crafted not towards facilitating assembly but more to control. That, I think, is a fundamental issue for me and the entire UN (United Nations).

NONE"It is a disappointment that the law was passed as it is, but there is room for change and amendments," he said in exclusive interview with Malaysiakini last week.

"I have said in public many times that a peaceful assembly is actually meant to disrupt normal days. It is meant to do so.

"(As such) the role of the authorities is to facilitate and minimise the disruption. Maybe one can argue you should not disrupt traffic, but citizens do have the right to protest in the streets."

Kiai, a top Kenyan lawyer who has been a UN special rapporteur since May last year, said freedom of assembly is crucial for citizens to voice their economic, social and cultural grievances.

Quizzed on what aspects of the PAA which he found particularly disappointing, Kiai singled out the 10-day requirement to inform the police of an intended assembly and the ban on marches.

NONE"A rally is not only about making speeches, but you can walk. I think in the law (PAA), there is a prohibition on marches and this is against international norms.

"(Another bad practise) is you summon the organisers to explain why you did not inform the police 10 days before the event. That is not how you do it.

"The role of the police is to facilitate (the assembly) and not control it. The PAA role is to give you the right (to peaceful assembly) as a citizen, not to derogate it," he said.

"If there are hundreds of thousands of people coming out (to join a rally), it means there is an important issue of concern," he said.

Assemblies are avenue to vent frustrations

Kiai said demonstrations are necessary because they provide a peaceful way for the people to voice their frustrations.

"If you clamp down and say no, no, no, you are actually exacerbating tensions in the society. There is no single country where there is no tensions. It is the job of the state to provide (the avenue) for the people to vent them.

NONE"It is better that they vent them openly, publicly and peacefully then not," he added.

On concerns expressed by the authorities that Malaysia, being a multi-racial and multi-religious country, such assemblies may result in riots, Kiai said if there are groups inciting people through hatred and violence, then this should not be condoned or allowed.

Kiai however stressed that there are few countries in the world which do not have a certain measure of diversity among the population.

"It is the role of the state to manage that diversity. History has shown if you try to put a lid on it then you will create trouble. It is not rocket science. You need to create spaces for it (disagreement) to be expressed and dealt with in a civilised manner.

"Malaysia has done phenomenally well over 55 years. Rather than clamping down on it (disagreement), it is best to deal with it.

"If people are not allowed to protest or to express themselves, they will go underground...," he lamented.

Okay to have differences of opinion

On questions regarding the lodging of police reports by certain groups to stop public assemblies, Kiai argued that everyone should be given an opportunity to have their say.

"If I do not like what you are doing, I should allow an opportunity to give (you) your say and maybe in several days, I can come up and have mine.

NONE"Then you can gauge clearly (if) my issue or view is of more significance, but you should not stop someone else (from doing it).

"Freedom of assembly is not about the content, it is about the process too. I defend the right to protest as long as it is peaceful. If you do not like it, organise one (another rally)."

As an example, he said in Russia there was a demonstration against the ruling party, and several days later, the party organised their own rally.

"The key issue is tolerance, and the more tolerant we are in society, the smoother it is for everybody," he said, adding that this is far better than the tensions generated whenever the authorities clamp down on protests.

"We get along better when we talk - and it is okay to have differences because we are not born alike."

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