Ambiga’s 2018 flashback: We killed ourselves, but it was a waste of time

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Unlike politicians who only care about the next election, statespeople care about the next generation but there are none in Malaysia right now.

Driven by the excitement that changes would be implemented, former Bar Council chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan recalled the time and effort that were put into the Institutional Reforms Committee (IRC) in 2018 for the then Pakatan Harapan government.

However, she said this turned out to be a “waste of time”.

Ambiga said while some recommendations were implemented, no action was taken on most of them such as prison reforms.

“You remember we all spent three to four months in the excited belief that the Harapan government then in 2018 was going to bring reforms.

“So, we killed ourselves day and night, and now I don’t know why I wasted my time to produce, with some other very, very eminent people, an institutional reforms report.

“Some action was taken on it, but a lot wasn’t. What is difficult about prison reforms, about people living humanely?” Ambiga asked.

She was speaking on a panel titled ‘Intersection of Rule of Law and Human Rights in Malaysia’ at the International Malaysia Law Conference held at the Shangri-la Hotel in Kuala Lumpur today.

The IRC was set up in 2018 under the Dr Mahathir Mohamad-led Harapan government, which collapsed after just 22 months in power. It produced a report which touched on areas such as anti-corruption.

Other members of the IRC were retired Court of Appeal judges KC Vohrah and Mah Weng Kwai, then National Patriots Association president Mohamed Arshad Raji and constitutional law expert Shad Saleem Faruqi.

Meanwhile, Ambiga also spoke on the treatment of refugees and stateless persons in Malaysia, saying the country’s leaders do not have “a shred of humanity” when it comes to these marginalised communities.

These communities, she said, deserve human dignity too as human rights are universal.

“That is the whole point of human rights, it is the same for everyone. You are born with those rights.

“It isn’t for someone else to give them to you, you have them by virtue of being a human,” she added.

No statespeople, only politicians

Ambiga pointed out that politicians in Malaysia often forget that human rights are also present in the Federal Constitution, especially when some of them claim that such rights are a Western concept.

She questioned that if human rights are not for Malaysia, then why does the country try so hard to secure a seat in the United Nations Human Rights Council?

“We are there now for the third time (but) why are we even there if we don’t understand human rights?” she asked.

On the contrary, Ambiga praised the work of Suhakam in producing detailed reports on the state of human rights in Malaysia over the past years.

But once those reports get to Parliament, she said nothing is done about it, just like with the auditor-general’s reports and other similar documents.

“You know why they (politicians) don’t care? They are more interested in the next election,” she said.

Ambiga said unlike politicians who only care about the next election, statespeople care about the next generation but there are none in Malaysia right now.

“That’s why they use religion. Do you think they really believe half the things they say? They use it because that is the best way to divide all of us,” she said.

However, the electorate is getting more educated, which she hopes will make a difference in the next election.

“We have made a difference before, we can do it again and I think we should not fall for the divisive politics that are being practised right now,” she added.