Who Are Minding The Minders


From Azalina Othman Said
What a week it has been for Malaysia. We read about the alleged cruelty young ones were subjected to through court testimony, which forced all Malaysians to rethink where we stand when it comes to humanity, basic human rights, dignity and morality.
Bella’s case calls for attention to the rampant child abuse happening in the country. On average, 17 children are abused daily in Malaysia, a figure that is based on reported cases. But this is probably just the tip of the iceberg.
Abuse cases in facilities entrusted to care for vulnerable children are more likely to go unreported, and this includes children attending unregistered and unregulated religious schools in many parts of the country.
Some welfare and informal educational institutions simply fall through the cracks of government regulations and monitoring. The abuse, neglect and irresponsible behaviour towards children and other vulnerable populations in these facilities have given rise to a pertinent question – who are minding the minders?
I welcome the prime minister’s announcement yesterday on the formation of a special Cabinet committee with the purpose of protecting the vulnerable populations, especially children, persons with disabilities (OKU), women and senior citizens.
Kudos to the government for initiating this inter-ministerial committee and I hope that they will take this opportunity to conduct a rapid assessment and review existing governance, implementation and monitoring systems.
I take this opportunity to advocate for the Office of the Child Commissioner (OCC) to be truly independent, financially and administratively, and report directly to Parliament.
Parliament should allocate one day in every session to debate the reports and findings of the OCC and Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam).
Human rights violations affect economic growth
Why should we care about human rights? Why do we need to amend archaic laws and ratify international treaties such as the remaining six core United Nations treaties? My answer lies in the word “development”.
Malaysia can’t stay under the radar forever as investors are using Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG), a marker that is directly linked to investment performance.
Having a strong ESG proposition translates to cost reduction, sustainable equipment, subsidies and government support and motivated employees. These factors translate into economic impact and growth for the company.
Whether we like it or not, the Covid-19 pandemic, war and global uncertainties have reshaped the global trade market.
US Treasury secretary Janet L. Yellen stated that the country’s trade relationships are based on working with “trusted partners”, even if it meant higher costs for businesses and consumers.
By now, we should clearly understand that our economic goals cannot be achieved without working on our “carbon credits”, as much as our “human rights credits”.
Who are the minders?
Human rights protection requires a whole-of-society approach, in other words, it is a communal responsibility. All of us have a duty of care towards other human beings (and animals, too, for that matter).
What is the point of drafting protective laws if they are not enforceable? We have a whole range of laws, from criminal and family to election and religious laws — all closely knit to uphold the rule of law, democracy and human rights.
If you have knowledge of a child being abused or a domestic worker being starved to death, you have a duty to report the perpetrators to the relevant authority. To remain a silent bystander is dangerous.
Unreported cases of human rights violations have led to unfathomable fatalities. And for each case that goes unreported, justice is denied. The legislative, judiciary and executive play distinct but interrelated roles in upholding human rights for all, and one branch cannot do it without the other.
The executive should always bear in mind that no one is above the law; that they’re accountable not only under the Federal Constitution via the Ultra Vires Doctrine, but also judicial review and tort of misfeasance, and are answerable to Parliament, the judiciary and the people.
The judiciary is equally important and shall always remain independent, to be able to exercise its discretion with due consideration and care, and exercise judicial activism without fear.
Parliament must be the “watchdog” for human rights violations. Lawmakers should acknowledge human rights narratives in the day-to-day debates in Parliament.
It is our responsibility to elevate protection accorded by the laws and be mindful that every stakeholder involved in the subject matter will play a bigger role in the protection, with heightened liability and duty of care.
Constant review, amendments and even introduction of new legislation are needed to ensure that these protective laws are adequate and effective. Never underestimate the ripple effect when issues pertaining to human rights violations are brought up, investigated, and discussed by the Dewan Rakyat.
To my fellow MPs, let us be constantly reminded of our duties as lawmakers. Even though we are from different political parties with different ideologies, we must stand united with one voice and without fear or favour when it comes to human rights issues.
We may be limited in our capacity to influence what happens at the implementation level of government; however, we do have the power to initiate top-down actions with necessary legislative changes, ensuring that laws are executed in the best interests of the rakyat.
We can also clearly identify duty bearers and hold them accountable for their actions, through the laws we make. I urge MPs to submit as many new laws as possible via Private Members’ Bills.
Don’t worry for it may or will be rejected by the government on grounds of time or costs. Don’t worry if it may be unpopular among our peers.
Worry more when we are among aloof, narcissistic and merciless lawmakers. Life is too short. - FMT
Azalina Othman Said is Pengerang MP and an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

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