Wednesday 12 September 2012

UN rep: Gov't's job to ensure rallies are peaceful

By  Kuek Ser Kuang Keng and Hafiz Yatim

United Nations special rapporteur for peaceful assembly and association Maina Kiai has lamented that Malaysia is one of the few countries in the world where protest organisers are personally held liable for damages caused at demonstrations.

"This is completely against human rights standards as the state has the responsibility to ensure that those who want to assemble can do so peacefully," he said in an exclusive interview with Malaysiakini last week.

"We (UN rapporteurs) have expressed concern on how the Bersih 3.0 rally was handled and we still hold that view," said Kiai, who studied law in both University of Nairobi and Harvard.

NONEKiai, who was in Malaysia last week on the invitation of several non-governmental organisations including Suaram and Council, said the state should understand that allowing freedom of assembly does not negate its responsibility to ensure that the rallies remain peaceful.

The top Kenyan lawyer is on his first visit to Malaysia as part of a familiarisation tour to get to know the country better, particularly on the issue where he has been tasked by UN to protect - the right to peaceful assembly.

During his brief visit, Kiai made time to call on inspector-general of police Ismail Omar.

A number of UN special rapporteurs had earlier written to the Malaysian government to formally invite them for a visit following the Bersih crackdown, and Kiai confirmed he had received an official invitation from Putrajaya to come next year.

Elaborating further on the Bersih 3.0 rally, he said the UN special rapporteurs believed that under the international law, the organisers should be generally responsible for the event.

"However, if unlawful acts happen, then it is the state's responsibility. The state has the primary task to ensure that the rally is peaceful.

"If there are agent provocateurs in the rally, they need to pull them out in a humane way and deal with them according to the law. You cannot, and should not, pass that responsibility to individual citizens."

Police concerns

Kiai said he emphatised with the police's concerns about the need for order and the meeting with Ismail was to help him (Kiai) understand how the police operate here.

According to the UN special rapporteur, the IGP had indicated that the police were re-examining their standard operating procedures.

He said hopefully there would be an active public debate by citizens, the media, civil society, and members of parliament to help provide input on various aspects of the issue.

Kiai described his meeting with Ismail as "quite open" and that he left feeling rather satisfied.

"The IGP voiced his concerns that the organisers didn't know everybody who came, which was true. However, if there are people out to create chaos or damage, it is the role of the police to make sure they don't.

"You do not blame a shopkeeper if a theft is committed in his shop. The man who came in to steal should be held accountable."

NONEThis was in reference to the fact that Bersih co-chairperson S Ambiga and several members of the Bersih 2.0 steering committee were slapped with a RM122,000 civil suit from the government and police following damages caused at the Bersih 3.0 rally on April 28, including 15 police vehicles.

Indeed Kiai and the UN special rapporteur for the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, have both been critical of the governments's handling of the Bersih rallies.

La Rue, who came to Malaysia a day after the Bersih 2.0 rally on July 9 last year, had commented in May that he was willing to come to Malaysia to probe the Bersih 3.0 rally but this was summarily rejected by the Foreign Ministry.

In the past, both Kiai and La Rue had voiced displeasure over the Bersih crackdown.

Kiai had called on the government to withdraw its complaint against Ambiga, while La Rue urged the government to ensure a safe and conducive environment for journalists covering such demonstrations.

Several journalists were hurt and a few of them arrested by the authorities at Bersih 3.0, and this has sparked a public inquiry on the matter by Malaysia's Human Rights Commission.

Tomorrow: Maina Kiai's views on Peaceful Assembly Bill

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