Liberasi’s Official Statement on Malaysia’s Withdrawal from the Rome Statute of International Criminal Court (ICC)

Liberasi notes with great disappointment the Malaysian government’s decision to withdraw from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) dated 5th April 2019. In early March, the government of Malaysia had acceded to the international treaty. The reason given for this abandonment is that the issue had been politicised by certain parties such that the intention and potential impact of acceding to the Rome Statute have been clouded. The rakyat, as Tun Mahathir put it, are now confused about what may happen if they do accede to it. While we agree with Tun Mahathir that opposition to the statute is misconstrued and highly political, we, at Liberasi, disagree that the assertion must be addressed by abandoning its ratification.

‘Confusion’ does not justify withdrawal

It is understandable that the complexity and technicality of the treaty would cause some confusion amongst the rakyat, in particular, how accession to the Rome Statute will affect Malaysian sovereignty. As we have seen with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), the Government of Malaysia had not properly explained to the public why the country should accede to the Rome Statute and what accession entails prior to its’ initial decision.

Small signs of confusion were already there from the outset. Weeks after Putrajaya’s announcement of the accession, some groups have delivered a memorandum of opposition to the Johor State Ruler because the accession was deemed to be a threat to the position of Malay rulers. Yet, the Government had chosen ignore their responsibility to provide proper facts to quell fear, misconceptions and false narratives surrounding the Rome Statute. The Government does not seem to be willing or does not have the confidence to argue, clarify and justify their acts outside of social media. As the representatives of the people’s trust, what does it say of the government if inaccurate claims are given so much credence that actual policies fall by the wayside?

We, at Liberasi, strongly believe that backtracking on the Rome Statute only adds to the confusion of the people. It does not merely vindicate those who have been peddling incorrect facts to the public, but those who did not understand the issue in the first place will now have their incorrect facts and beliefs validated, and those who understood and supported the issue are left disillusioned by a government that does not keep to its’ word.

At this juncture, one must ask a pertinent question. If the reformation agenda, which has been touted by none other than Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as the most important success of this government, is fragile enough to be broken by nefarious protests that mislead the masses, where does one draw the line in not backing down to those who serve only political agendas? It is not acceptable for the democratically voted-in government to not be steadfast in championing the very causes that carried them to victory.

What is worrying is this government, which was carried to Putrajaya on the backs of the masses protesting deeply-rooted kleptocracy, seems to be pandering to those who did not vote for them whilst forgetting those who did. Politically, this is taking one’s supporters for granted and the returns gotten from courting one’s opponents will likely result in the erosion of one’s voter base. Moreover, the will of the people is abandoned to service political survival. We, at Liberasi, would like to caution the government not to continue this line of action, rather respect their electoral base and fulfill their promises as soon as possible.

The Government is answerable to Malaysians and no one else

Tun Mahathir’s admittance that ‘one individual’ stirring up untruths about the Rome Statute has led to it being abandoned is truly troubling. Furthermore, the responsibility of the government does not stop when someone stirs up trouble. It is not to stem the impacts of an individual’s actions alone, rather to engage the public in proper discourse to explain a certain stance. Backing down to this sort of pressure is akin to empowering the wrong person. The government is answerable to the people of Malaysia. It is supposed to add value to them wherever possible. It is not supposed to leave them vulnerable to untruths.

It must be pointed out that the democratically elected government of Malaysia did not have to obtain any special permission from the Council of Rulers to ratify the statute, not did it need to gain a two-third majority in Parliament. Accession could have been done very easily and, if in future there was any attempt to undermine the sovereignty of Malaysia, we could even have gotten out then. The special structure of the Malaysian constitutional monarchy does not lend itself to be disrupted if exposed to the Rome Statute, as the concept of complementarity governs the latter. This means that the Rome Statute only comes into effect when the Malaysian courts are unable to prosecute parties for heinous crimes. In that scenario, where lawlessness prevails and the state has failed, extreme war criminals may be hauled to the ICC to be tried. There is no reason for our Federal Constitution to be changed  as the Rome Statute does not clash with it in the first place.

Claims of political interference by the constitutional monarchy into matters of the executive are also deeply troubling. Whilst we cannot say whether or not this interference has occurred, the potential for it to have speaks of a deep fracture in people-led governance. In a democratic country like ours, it is unbecoming of entities which hold their own powers separately try to overlap on another’s jurisdiction. This may lead to a conflict of interest or a distortion of the quality of service presented to the people of Malaysia. Simply put, if there are any undemocratic steps being taken against the current government, it would only lead to a permanent denigration of the sanctity of our institutions, planting the seeds to a failed state.

We, at Liberasi, do not think that the reasons given were sufficient to justify Malaysia’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute. In fact, they merely showed the Government’s lack of courage to follow through with human rights commitments and caving into the pressure from parties that perpetuate mistruths for their own political gain. The many u-turns on human rights issues that have taken place under this new administration adds to the disappointment and all of it served only to undermine the Government’s own credibility.

6th April 2018.

Some Malaysian students have initiated a petition objecting Malaysia’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute. Click here to support the petition.

Featured image by Arina P Habich.

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