Martin Luther King Jr once said, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
He had also said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
The targeted bombing of civilians, the killing of a class of people purely because of their ethnicity, the rape of women and the abduction of children as part of a larger programme to eradicate a certain race or ethnicity are some of the forms of crimes against humanity – thankfully, we have not seen much of this in Malaysia.
We have, however, received to our shores many from Vietnam, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Bosnia and more recently Sri Lanka, who are victims of some of the most heinous crimes known to mankind. We see and hear from them the horrors of their experiences.
The principles of international justice are universal, and should be borderless, it should not matter that we are not direct victims of these atrocities. It should be enough for us to care if innocents elsewhere are being victimised.
The Malaysian Bar has long been a fierce advocate for international justice, and for the strengthening of the international justice system.
In 2003, when the International Criminal Court was inaugurated pursuant to the Rome Statute 1998, the Malaysian Bar welcomed this “milestone” event and urged the Malaysian government to ratify the Rome Statute without delay, pointing out that “Malaysia must not be seen as shirking its obligations as a member of the international community. The events of recent times including the unwarranted attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq have made these obligations even more poignant.”
Since 2007, the Malaysian Bar has been a member of the international network of non-governmental organisations known as the Coalition for the International Criminal Court. In that year, we launched a Malaysian coalition made up of a diverse array of organisations to advocate for Malaysian ratification of the Rome Statute.
In announcing this coalition, our then-President Ambiga Sreenevasan traced Malaysia’s long and time-honoured commitment to the cause of international humanitarian law and peace-keeping. She pointed out that after “only three years as an independent nation, we contributed peace-keepers to the Congo” and since then “we have contributed peace-keeping troops to many war-torn and conflict-ridden areas” in areas as diverse as Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kuwait, Lebanon and Somalia.
In 2009, in response to the devastating bombing by Israeli armed forces into Palestine, the Malaysian Bar reiterated the importance of international institutions that could call war crimes and crimes against humanity to account in these words:
We are witnessing more and more acts of horror being perpetrated by aggressive forces upon innocent and, very often, defenceless people. The reaction of nations that choose politics over human rights and morality, and which refuse to denounce or contain such acts, is disappointing. We must therefore turn to enduring institutions set up by the international community that call such acts to account. It is thus imperative that nation states subscribe to these institutions, to give them the moral and legal authority to deal with blatant human rights and humanitarian abuses worldwide. One such institution is the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Ladies and gentlemen,
Those observations in 2009 hold true even to today. Recent revelations by the British Channel 4 television network shows that just a few months after those attacks in Palestine, gruesome war crimes may have been committed in the dying days of the Sri Lankan civil war. The United Nations in 2010 set up an independent panel of experts, who have also recommended an international investigation into what it called “credible allegations” of the commission of war crimes in Sri Lanka. Yet, no such investigation has yet been put in place. Because Sri Lanka was not a member of the ICC, the ICC’s hands are tied unless the UN’s Security Council refers the matter to it.
The current state of realpolitik in international affairs means that this is not likely to happen. On the other hand, the disparity in the treatment of the situation in Sri Lanka with the world’s reaction to the atrocities currently being committed in Libya has been the source of some criticism. In my view, this disparity in the treatment of like situations will always be a legitimate criticism of international justice until and unless the ICC is universally accepted around the world and is able to function totally independently without the need for referrals through the political process of the UN Security Council.
Given the Malaysian Bar’s history of seeking to persuade the Government to join the ICC, it was with some excitement that we welcomed the announcement earlier this year by the Malaysian Government that it had agreed in principle to ratify the Rome Statute.
In welcoming the announcement of its intention with regard to the Rome Statute, our current President Lim Chee Wee, in his press statement of 15 Mar 2011
, pointed out:
The fact that the ICC operates on a principle of complementarity means that the international jurisdiction of the ICC is carefully balanced with the jurisdiction of the Malaysian courts. Malaysia has nothing to fear from membership of the ICC. Indeed, by becoming a party to the Rome Statute, Malaysia will enjoy the right to nominate candidates to all the organs of the ICC, including the offices of the Prosecutor and the Registrar, and judges.
Please click on the following links for recent Bar Council press releases regarding the Rome Statute and the International Criminal Court:
I would venture to say that ratification of the Rome Statute would be in Malaysia’s best interests. Substantively, we hope to see important and far-reaching advancements in international criminal justice that would inevitably be transmuted to our domestic law. It is also in the best interests of Malaysian lawyers. We are currently justifiably proud that one of our own N Sivananthan is currently a listed counsel of defence advocates at the ICC, and a member of the Executive Committee of the International Criminal Bar. Upon ratification, it is hoped that more places will be available at the ICC for Malaysians and Malaysian lawyers would have the opportunity to be exposed to this important field of law.
There are of course many more areas in which membership of the ICC will benefit us in Malaysia, and thus it is timely that today we move forward from the question of ratification to a forum that will allow us to learn “The Benefit to Malaysia of Being A State Party To The Rome Statute Of The International Criminal Court”.
I welcome all our distinguished speakers today, and thank you all for attending this important forum.
28 July 2011
1) Press Release - International Criminal Court: Step in the right direction, but swift action needed (17 July 2011)
2) Press Release: Perpetrators of war crimes not welcomed (14 June 2011)
3) Press Release: Malaysian Bar commends Malaysian Government’s intention to ratify the Rome Statute (15 Mar 2011)