Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Press Statement: Human Rights Day Walk

The controversy surrounding the Bar Council Human Rights Day Walk scheduled for 9 December 2007 is indeed unfortunate and wholly unwarranted. This is an event that we have held for the past two years in recognition of International Human Rights Day, which falls on the 10th of December every year. It is a celebration of Human Rights, and the Malaysian Bar supports the International Human Rights Day as symbolic of the universality of human rights.

Apart from the Walk, the Bar Council is organising festivities in Central Market, which includes a lip-reading session of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stage performances by the Orang Asli and others, and a colouring competition for children.

Accordingly, this event ought not to be embroiled in controversy.

Most significantly, it should not be vilified as affecting race relations or be regarded as an anti-Government rally.

In fact, it is an event that would have demonstrated complete racial harmony and would have demonstrated (as we have before) that we can walk peaceably in unity for human rights the world over. It would have been an opportunity for the authorities to show to the world that we subscribe to these values. It is a missed opportunity.

The Bar Council has given anxious consideration to the present circumstances that surround this event, particularly the interests of the public and the Malaysian Bar. In consequence, the Bar Council has decided to cancel the walk from Sogo to Central Market. HOWEVER THE FESTIVITIES AT CENTRAL MARKET WILL PROCEED. We believe it is important that this event from 9am to 2.30pm be held, and the public are invited to attend it.

The Bar Council takes the position that the requirement for an application for a permit under the Police Act to hold this event, violates our constitutional right to peaceful assembly. In fact, the Royal Commission on the Police Force and SUHAKAM have said as much, and have called for a repeal of this law, as has the Bar Council. The police had asked for the Bar Council to apply for a permit for their consideration for the Walk. Apart from the circumstances that we have taken into account, we believe this is an unlawful fetter on our constitutional right to assemble peacefully.

We are mindful that many will be disappointed at the cancellation of the walk, but other more significant considerations have prevailed on this occasion.

Ambiga Sreenevasan
Malaysian Bar

4 December 2007

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