Read this insightful press release from Malaysian Bar Council President Steven Thiru on the current challenges the Malaysian legal profession is facing in upholding the rule of law.

At the crossroads of the rule of law: Malaysia must confront challenges to international and domestic justice now

Tomorrow, 17 July 2015, marks the Day of International Criminal Justice, which commemorates the anniversary of the adoption of the Rome Statute on 17 July 1998, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court (“ICC”). The Rome Statute seeks to protect people from genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression, and the ICC has proven itself to be an effective mechanism to address international crimes.

In this regard, the first-year anniversary of the shooting down of MH17 on 17 July 2014 serves to focus efforts to bring the perpetrators of an international crime to justice. It also raises the question of how, and where, they are to be prosecuted once they are apprehended.

Efforts are ongoing this week at the United Nations Security Council in New York to gather support for Malaysia’s proposal to establish an international tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the downing of MH17 over eastern Ukraine last year.[1] This will see the participation of the Netherlands, Australia, Britain and the Ukraine, who are all members of the Joint Investigation Team.

The Malaysian Bar supports the principle that the perpetrators of this heinous act must be brought to justice. However, the government has not explained why it has chosen the route of an ad hoc international tribunal instead of the well-established ICC system.

It is noteworthy that the Malaysian Government had announced, in April 2011, a Cabinet decision to join the ICC. This has not been acted upon. 123 Member States of the United Nations have joined the ICC. The apparent refusal to join the ICC signals a worrying “u-turn” on the part of our Government.

The Malaysian Bar is also surprised by the reports that Malaysia has refused to entertain a formal request by the Australian Attorney-General’s office for information relating to the alleged corruption scandal surrounding the award of a contract to print Malaysian polymer banknotes.  Victoria’s Supreme Court recently revoked a suppression order that had prevented the publication of any information aired in the ongoing Australian Reserve Bank bribery court proceedings.[2] The request was made pursuant to the Mutual Cooperation in Criminal Matters arrangements between Malaysia and Australia.  It has been reported that the Malaysian Government has declined to cooperate.

The Government’s vacillating stand on cooperating with friendly countries in the quest for cross-border justice is quite inexplicable.  It does not bode well for our standing in the international community in an area that requires close cross-border cooperation. Moreover, Malaysia has already been wrong-footed with the recent discovery of the “death camps” at our border with Thailand, where the remains of many victims of human trafficking have been unearthed.[3] This is yet another reminder that we cannot turn a blind eye to international criminal activities.

It should not be forgotten that today, 16 July 2015, marks the 6th anniversary of the death of Teoh Beng Hock.[4]  Six years on, we are not even close to seeing a prosecution of those responsible for his death.  Notwithstanding the Court of Appeal decision that Teoh did not commit suicide[5] and a financial settlement by the Malaysian Government and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission with his family[6], the seeming lack of interest and urgency in pursuing the criminal investigation and prosecution is extremely alarming.

As a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Malaysia must do more in establishing exemplary credentials as an upholder and respecter of justice, both internationally and domestically. If we are to take our place as a strong, trustworthy and dependable regional pillar, we need to reaffirm our commitment to the rule of law and reinforce our foundations of law and order.

Steven Thiru

President, the Malaysian Bar Council

16 July 2015                       

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