May 8, 06 3:42pm
Truth is not a virtue tolerated in Malaysia, not by the standards of our politicians at least. And this lesson that there are no takers for truth in Malaysia was learnt the hard way by social activist Professor Hamdan Adnan.
Hamdan, who served as commissioner of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia or Suhakam from 2000 until 2006, was unceremoniously dropped from the 2006-2008 term. No reason for this were given by the government. Two others whose term was not renewed were Professor Sharifah Hapsah Syed Shahbuddin and Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam.
While it is not clear as to why these two were not reappointed, what, however, seems obvious is that Hamdan's departure from Suhakam was a move long awaited by some individuals. Hamdan, known for his vocal sentiments on issues affecting the average Malaysian, has always held a ‘no holds barred’ approach to tackling an issue that came his way as Suhakam commissioner.
Yes, he questioned the status quo and yes, he took the local authorities to task. At the end of it all, Hamdan was an ordinary man doing things the extraordinary way. As a consumer advocate, Hamdan gave Suhakam an identity and made it synonymous with the issue of human rights.
Thanks to his endeavours, the lay person on the street could now identify with Suhakam.
While the government has the prerogative in deciding whom it will appoint as a commissioner, the fact is that in Hamdan's case, he was removed not because he was ineffective but because he was the only one who doing his job as a Suhakam commissioner.
Hamdan's cries for transparency by the government in disclosing certain bias did not go down well with the powers-that-be. His conscience-clear ‘modus operandi’ made certain people uncomfortable and his courage in 'rocking the boat' made yet some more other people angry.
So it seems that a pact of sorts had been made to get this humble man to stop championing human rights issues any further.
Not Hamdan's loss
Having him removed from Suhakam is no loss for Hamdan, for with his capabilities and knowledge, the man can continue to advocate the human rights cause in the country without aligning himself to any position of power.
The government must be aware of the kind of issues that Hamdan fought for during his tenure as Suhakam commissioner. But in spite of his doing an excellent job, the government did not bat an eyelid in deciding not to renew his term. One can only wonder whether the government is now regretful of its action in not renewing Hamdan's term.
It must be admitted that of all the commissioners at Suhakam, it is Hamdan’s efforts that outshine the rest. Should Suhakam be seen with some respect, it is because of Hamdan and his untiring efforts in putting this human rights watchdog on a higher platform.
However, Hamdan's matter-of-fact attitude is not seen as an asset by the government, not when he recently ticked off Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Nazri Abdul Aziz over the latter's comment that 'Suhakam was meant to be a ‘toothless tiger'.
While Hamdan retorted in a manner befitting a commissioner, his admonition may not have gone well with Nazri. Did Hamdan know what was coming his way?
Perhaps he did but as a consumer advocate of many years, Hamdan has dealt with 'difficult' people as gracefully as he can. What really was the government's intention in removing Hamdan, one can only wonder.
Does it bother the government what image has it now acquired with the 'getting rid' of Hamdan from Suhakam? While the position of a commissioner is not a permanent one, it, however, helps if the post is given to an individual most qualified to do the job. And Hamdan was one such person.
Let Suhakam do its job
The Nazri-Hamdan 'toothless tiger' issue should serve as a reminder to the powers-that-be that human rights and politics can go hand-in-hand provided respect is accorded to individuals championing these causes.
Politicians should refrain from interfering in the business of the human rights commission and leave the commissioners to do their job. When Nazri was lambasted by Hamdan and fellow commissioner Siva Subramaniam for his remark that the government has no intention of bestowing more powers to Suhakam, could a plot for revenge then have been hatched?
What a coincidence that after this incident, Hamdan is no longer seen as the 'darling' of Suhakam, but rather a troublemaker.
A social activist who requested anonymity said she was shocked to learn that Hamdan was dropped from the new line up of Suhakam's commissioners. "It is puzzling because this is one man who was doing his job very well, helping people who came to it with various problems.
“And now, the government decides they do not need Hamdan Adnan. To me, it is clear that Hamdan was removed because he was far too vocal in pointing out the wrongs that had to be corrected. There was no fear or favour on his part. I admired the way Hamdan fought for the poor and oppressed.
“It is befuddling that while the government assures people of transparency, it on the other hand penalises individuals like Hamdan who practice what the government preaches.
“Not having Hamdan in Suhakam is indeed a big loss," she said.
JJ RAY started her career with a mainstream publication. A non-conformist, she soon saw the barriers that went up whenever, through her writing, she tried to make the world a home for one and all.