Read the rest of the Redd article here.
And my article from 1999 on the background to the project, and anthropologists complicity, Resettling Bakun iot
Read the rest of the Redd article here.
And my article from 1999 on the background to the project, and anthropologists complicity, Resettling Bakun iot
This just popped up on you tube and I’d like a ticket. If you have a mask, and you are in KL, this is the new year party to ring in something special. (Londoners, see you at Holloway)
I do, like many of you, enjoy lepakking at home and watching TV.
I appreciate the comforts of every day routine, the security of familiar things, the tranquillity of repetition.
But in the spirit of celebrating the New Year, with much partying and revelry, I thought we could mark this December 31 with something special.
There are, of course, those who don’t want us to speak. I suspect even now orders are being shouted into telephones and men with guns will soon be on their way.
Because while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power.
Words… offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen…the enunciation of truth.
And the truth is…there is… something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there?
Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression.
And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission.
How did this happen? Who’s to blame?
Well certainly there are those more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable.
But again truth be told, if you’re looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror.
I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn’t be?
MAY 13, RACE RIOTS, FEAR OF COMMUNISTS, OPERASI LALANG.
There are a myriad of problems which conspire to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense.
Fear got the best of you, and in your panic you turned to Barisan Nasional.
BN promised you order, BN promised you peace and all they demanded in return was your silent, obedient consent.
Today, I seek to end that silence.
2011 will go down in history as the Year of Peaceful, Non-Violent Revolutions. It began in Tunisia, culminating in Tahrir Square, Egypt.
Tahrir Square is now the symbol of human freedom and liberation in the 21st century.
We also saw the uprising of the Indignados, which occupied Puerta del Sol in Madrid, Spain, giving inspiration to the Occupy Wall Street movement.
This democratic wave, driven by ordinary peoples on the street – as opposed to leadership by elites the world over – is a major turning point in our time.
As the year draws to a close, dark clouds still hang over the Malaysian sky, no different from the previous years.
Repression of human rights continue unabated. Malaysians suffer these abuses in different forms and at different levels. It is often hard for the ordinary Malaysian to articulate and give voice to their suffering and plight.
We want every person to find his or her own voice, formulating his or her own demands.
Some of these demands may spring from a litany of injustices:
the repression of street protests (for example Bersih 2.0),
the passing of the Peaceful Assembly Bill 2011,
the Lynas debacle,
the continuous land-grab of Orang Asli & indigenous land in Sabah & Sarawak,
corruption in government,
exploitation and repression of local and migrant workers’ welfare & rights,
deaths in the custody of the MACC and THE POLICE,
the suppression of academic and student freedoms by the UUCA.
And the list goes on!
So if you’ve seen nothing, if the crimes of this government remain insignificant to you, then I would suggest that you allow the 31st of December to past unmarked.
But if you see what I see, if you feel as I feel, and if you would seek as I seek, then I ask you to stand beside me and wear you V Mask on New Years Eve at the stroke of midnight, at Dataran Merdeka, and give them a New Year that shall never, ever be forgotten.
By Malaysian NGOs on the Global Day of Action on Military Spending,
April 12, 2011
In 2009 alone, global military spending rose to an all-time high amount of $1.53 TRILLION! Because we encounter countless crises in today’s world -poverty, hunger, lack of education, poor health care, and environmental issues – it is essential that we come together and create a global movement focusing on what IS important: human lives and their needs. It really is up to us… if not, then who? But we must act NOW!
A Global Day of Action on Military Spending on April 12, 2011 has been organized to coincide with the release of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) new annual figures on world military expenditures. On this day, people on all continents will join together in joint actions to focus public, political, and media attention on the costs of military spending and the need for new priorities. Such events will help us to build the international network around this issue.
Join us in this historic Global Day of Action on Military Spending. This day of action has been coordinated by:
The International Peace Bureau (IPB), dedicated to the vision of a World without War. IPB are a Nobel Peace Laureate (1910); over the years, 13 of its officers have been recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. They have 320 member organisations in 70 countries, together with individual members from a global network, bring together expertise and campaigning experience in a common cause. Their current main programme centres on Sustainable Disarmament for Sustainable Development.
The Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) is a community of public scholars and organizers linking peace, justice, and the environment in the U.S. and globally. They work with social movements to promote true democracy and challenge concentrated wealth, corporate influence, and military power. As Washington’s first progressive multi-issue think tank, the IPS has served as a policy and research resource for visionary social justice movements for over four decades.
Statement by Malaysian NGOs on Military Spending, 12 April 2011
Malaysian NGOs on Military Spending are concerned about the carte blanche given to the Ministry of Defence for arms purchases while health, education and other social services are still so deplorable. The total security allocation under the Tenth Malaysia Plan is RM23 billion. Through the years, the allocation for security (internal security + defence) has been as high as 15.9% and 15.0% under the 3rd and 6th Malaysia Plans while the allocation for health has been as low as 1.6% and 1.0% under the 4th and 5th Malaysia Plans respectively. The Education Minister said recently that 600 schools in the country are in critical condition, most of these in East Malaysia.
The arms race among the Southeast Asian countries seems the most pointless after all the talk at conferences on ASEAN integration. Even so, each country’s attempt to be ahead in the race is self-defeating.
In 1997, Malaysia was described as one of “East Asia’s Big Eight” countries devoting “lavish resources” to develop its military industries. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists said that these countries – China, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia – were enhancing their capabilities in military organization, arms purchases, and military industrialization.
Malaysia’s rivalry with Singapore springs not from ideological differences but from the latter’s forced separation from the Malaysian federation in 1965, after a crisis emanating from the racial politics of their ruling classes. From this rivalry we can see how the ensuing arms race has burdened the peoples in the two countries with billions in arms spending.
Many are not aware of the rapid growth of Malaysia’s domestic military-industrial complex. The top brass of the military guard their power and privilege and this is nourished by easy access to the defence budget and the simple justification of “national security”. Today we have seen the growth of such a complex in many countries, including Malaysia. An offshoot of the arms purchases is the race to develop domestic defence equipment industries in each of the S.E. Asian countries.
It is clear that the BN Government could get away with such huge defence budgets during the last few decades because of the erosion of these safeguards in our democratic system, viz. dominance of the executive over parliament; loss of public accountability; absence of Freedom of Information legislation; inadequate separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary; poor safeguards for civil rights. The National Defence Policy is as good as giving a carte blanche to the Ministry of Defence for “deterrence and forward defence”.
The Non-Aligned Movement was founded upon the principles of peace, neutrality and impartiality to the Superpowers. A genuine non-aligned policy can therefore go a long way toward ridding us of the need to procure expensive arms.
Disarmament must ultimately be inclusive of all the nations within ASEAN. The peoples in ASEAN deserve a better quality of life compared to the status quo which is committed to an irrational arms race among the ASEAN countries themselves and deprives their peoples of valuable resources for social development.
Minimising the defence budget in Malaysia and throughout ASEAN can free more valuable resources into urgently needed social services and socially useful production. Wasting money on arms prevents it from being spent on health, education, clean water or other public services. It also distorts the economy and diverts resources, such as skilled labour and R&D away from alternative economic activity.
Leaders have the responsibility to initiate that fundamental change and involving everyone in that peace-building process. It involves overcoming the fears, prejudices and other contradictions that give rise to misunderstanding, violence and conflict. It involves re-ordering our financial priorities away from wasteful and destructive arms to the social well-being of all our peoples.
Facilitating greater democracy in our society also creates a culture of peace since the more that citizens have the opportunity to participate in the running of their society and the freedom to express their aspirations and criticisms, the less likely are they to take up arms to overthrow the government.
To achieve a culture of peace would require a profound reformation but reform we must. Cooperating in shared goals and nurturing positive interdependence can help to build this culture of peace. A culture of peace should be our nation’s vision. It is a vision that is only attainable in a society that respects human dignity, social justice, democracy and human rights. It is an environment that can settle conflict and differences through dialogue and democracy and not through threats and repression.
Social change will only happen when the people are mobilised in a movement for peace. Only such a movement and consciousness can divert the billions spent on unnecessary and wasteful armaments to peaceful and socially useful production. Malaysian NGOs on Military Spending have a responsibility for initiating this movement.
SUARA RAKYAT MALAYSIA
Press Statement by SUARAM: 7th March 2011
Mission Report on Malaysia by Working Group on Arbitrary Detention:
Implement Recommendations Now!
The findings and recommendations of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) from its visit to Malaysia from 7 to 18 June 2010 have added to the long list of recommendations and concerns pertaining to the Malaysian government’s legislations, policies and practices of arbitrary detention. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) has despatched Ms Temme Lee, SUARAM Secretariat member to make interventions at the UN Human Rights Council after the mission report presented by the WGAD. SUARAM supports the recommendations made by the working group to the Malaysian government.
“Classic Cases of Arbitrary Detention” under the ISA, EO, DDA, RRA
In their mission report, the WGAD states that it is “seriously concerned” about the existence and enforcement of laws which provide for detention without trial in Malaysia, namely the Internal Security Act (ISA), the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance (EO), the Dangerous Drugs (Special Preventive Measures) Act (DDA), and the Restricted Residence Act.
“(These laws) impede the detainee’s right to a fair trial, consecrated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and by international human rights customary law. They also severely restrict detainees’ access to legal counsel.”
The working group has also stated its concern on the periodic review by the Advisory Board. The working group considers that an appearance before an Advisory Board does not fulfill minimal fair trial guarantees. Although detainees may appeal every six months to the Advisory Board on the preventive laws, the detainees are not notified of its recommendations, its recommendations are not binding and they are not made public. On the other, the defence lawyers may appear on behalf of the detainee, attend the hearing without access to all the documentation, including evidence, and have no right to call witnesses.
During the press conference held by the WGAD on 18 June 2010, its Chairperson-Rapporteur El Hadji Malick Sow stated that detentions under the ISA, the EO, and the DDA are “classic cases of arbitrary detention”. The WGAD also noted with concern that “thousands of people” are being detained under the EO and the DDA.
“Systematic” Detention of Refugees
Also of concern to the WGAD is the detention of refugees and asylum seekers. The WGAD’s Chairperson-Rapporteur has described the detention of refugees as “systematic”, noting that even refugees who are in possession of identity cards issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees are not exempt from arrests and detentions.
Malaysia’s non-ratification of the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and non-recognition of the status of refugees and asylum seekers have resulted in the detention of many refugees under immigration laws in Malaysia for their alleged “illegal presence” in Malaysian territory. The WGAD notes that detainees who have served prison sentences under Immigration laws are often held in immigration detention centres for an indefinite period while awaiting deportation to their countries of origin.
Police Force: Excessive Power leads to human rights violations
The working group has also expressed concern over the excessive power given to the police force in Malaysia particularly under the preventive laws. The working group is of the view that the excessive power given to the police has led to their eluding the normal penal procedure for common crimes and offences. This has given an opportunity to the police and the Home Minister to detain persons without the need to sustain evidence or to probe penal responsibility. The Working group also concludes that the police often fail to inform the detainees about their rights to contact family members and to consult a lawyer of their choice.
The working group also raises serious concern about the deaths that occur during the police detention and while in police custody; the ill treatment and torture in police stations and detention centres in order to obtain confessions and incriminatory evidence.
Repeal All Detention-without-Trial Laws
On detention-without-trial laws, the WGAD unambiguously recommends that the ISA, the EO, the DDA, and the RRA be repealed. In the interim period, while the laws are in force, the working group has urged that the decisions by the non-judicial Appeals Advisory Board should be binding on the Home Minister, and decisions with regard to the Act should be subject to judicial review.
SUARAM thus calls upon the government to re-think the proposed amendments to all the detention-without-trial laws in the light of the latest WGAD’s recommendations. The ISA, the EO, the DDA, and the RRA must be repealed forthwith; the government should immediately end all arrests under the detention-without-trial laws, and release all those currently detained under these laws or charge them in a fair and open court.
End Detention of Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Other Vulnerable Migrants
On the detention of immigrants, the WGAD states that:
“Detention of immigrants should be decided upon by a court of law, on a case by case basis, and pursuant to clearly and exhaustively defined criteria in legislation, under which detention may be resorted to.”
The WGAD stresses that immigrants should have an effective remedy to challenge the necessity and legality of their detention at any time; that immigration detention should not be applied to refugees, asylum seekers and vulnerable groups of migrants, including unaccompanied minors, families with minor children, pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, elderly persons, persons with disabilities, or people with serious and/or chronic physical or mental health problems.
The WGAD has also urged the Malaysian government to ratify the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, a recommendation which has been made on numerous occasions by SUHAKAM as well as UN member states during the Universal Periodic Review of Malaysia in February 2009.
SUARAM strongly urges the government to immediately implement these recommendations and to stop arresting refugees, asylum seekers and other vulnerable groups of migrants. The government should provide a concrete timeframe for the ratification of the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees.
Invite UN Experts in Other Areas Too
While Special Procedures Mandate Holders of the UN Human Rights Council can only visit a country with the host government’s invitation, SUARAM would like to point out that the WGAD had in fact made a request for a country visit to Malaysia way back in 2008. It was only in early 2010 that the Malaysian government officially and publicly confirmed its acceptance of the WGAD’s request to visit Malaysia.
To date, the Malaysian government has still not responded to eight pending requests by other Special Procedures Mandate Holders, namely the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders (request made in 2002); the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples (2005); the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion (2006); the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants (2006); the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism (2005); the Independent Expert on Minority Issues (2007 and 2009); the Special Rapporteur on Racism (2008); and Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers (2009).
SUARAM therefore strongly calls upon the Malaysian government to extend standing invitations to all Special Procedures Mandate Holders of the UN Human Rights Council which have made requests for country visits to Malaysia as soon as possible.
Implement WGAD’s Recommendations Now!
Today, WGAD’s final report is being submitted to the UN Human Rights Council. The recommendations of the Working Group are clear enough for the government to make immediate human rights reforms. The working group has also urged the Malaysian government to become a party to the main international instruments on human rights, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, (CERD), the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the Protocol there to, the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Similar recommendations have already been made by other bodies such as the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), the Royal Commission on the Police, and UN member states. As such, there is no justification for the government to delay implementing these recommendations immediately, especially when Malaysia currently has a seat in the Human Rights Council.
The Malaysian government’s attitude toward these recommendations of the WGAD will be an indication of either its commitment to human rights or otherwise, its sheer hypocrisy while sitting in UN Human Rights Council.
Released by, Nalini.E, SUARAM Coordinator
My friends at Suaram have been vigilant where no-one else has. I wrote on Bakun dam, resettlement and anthropological complicity in the journal Left Curve years ago (see link at the end of this post), and I remain interested in the politics of dams in general (from Aswan to Narmada to the Snowy Mountains). That there be opportunist politicians and compromised anthropologists comes as no surprise, but that they think they can pass themselves off as do-gooders (or at best naive) is not something that should pass unremarked. That Bakun and Suaram activists keep working at this juncture no doubt needs more support than this, and of course it would be good to see more than calls for an economic rethink, more than an expose of the schemings of piggy pollies, and surely more than a solidarity blog post like this. But the first step is to be informed, and Dr Kua Kia Soong leads the way.
THE SARAWAK DAMS: MULTIPLE FOLLIES
By Dr Kua Kia Soong, Director of SUARAM, 22 August 2008
The recent announcement that the Sarawak government intends to build 12 more dams in Sarawak apart from the ill-fated Bakun dam is cause for concern. It is a cause for grave concern. Malaysian tax payers, Malaysian forests and Malaysian indigenous peoples will again be the main victims of this misconceived plan.
The stop starting since the damned project was first proposed in the seventies, the proposal and abandonment of the aluminium smelter, the upsizing and downsizing of the dam, the inclusion or exclusion of the undersea cable project are all symptomatic of a wanton disregard for planning. Let us remind Malaysians of the ludicrous inconsistencies of official policy on this damned project:
On Off On Off On
In 1980, the Bakun dam was proposed with a power generating capacity of 2400 MW even though the projected energy needs for the whole of Sarawak was only 200MW for 1990. The project was thus coupled with the proposal to build the world’s longest (650 km) undersea cable to transmit electricity to the peninsula. An aluminium smelter at Bintulu was also proposed to take up the surplus energy.
In 1986, the project was abandoned because of the economic recession although the then Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir announced just before the UN Conference on Environment & Development at Rio that this was “proof of Malaysia’s commitment to the environment” (NST, 13.6.90)
In 1993, with the upturn in the Malaysian economy, the Government once again announced the revival of the Bakun HEP project. To cushion the expected protests, the Energy Minister Samy Vellu gave Parliament a poetic description of a “series of cascading dams” and not one large dam as had been originally proposed. Before long, it was announced that the Bakun dam would be a massive 205-metre high concrete face rockfill dam, one of the highest dams of its kind in the world and it would flood an area the size of Singapore Island. The undersea cable was again part of the project. There was also a plan for an aluminium plant, a pulp and paper plant, the world’s biggest steel plant and a high-tension and high-voltage wire industry.
Then in 1997, with the onset of the Asian financial crisis the Bakun project was put on hold for the second time. But the scandal was, while the anthropologists in all the Malaysian universities were sound asleep, the Government proceeded to remove 10,000 indigenous peoples made up of fifteen different ethnic groups from their ancestral lands. All this happened while the project was on hold and Malaysians shouted “Malaysia Boleh!”
In 1999, after the economy had recovered, the Government again announced that the project would be resumed albeit on a smaller scale of 500MW capacity.
Before long in 2001, the 2400MW scale was once again proposed although the submarine cable had been shelved. Today we read reports about the government and companies still contemplating this hare-brained scheme which is now estimated to cost a whopping RM21 billion! Not only that, we now hear that the 12 more hydroelectric dams will be generating a total capacity of 7000MW by 2020 – an increase of 600 per cent from current capacity!
Ultimately it will be the Malaysian consumers who pay for this expensive figment of the Chief Minister’s wild imagination. Enough tax payers’ money has been wasted – Sarawak Hidro has already spent some RM1.5 billion on the project. The human cost has been immeasurable – 10,000 indigenous peoples have been removed from their ancestral lands in 1998 even while the project had been shelved.
Improve the Efficiency of our Power Stations
If the Prime Minister really wants to know the state of the Malaysian energy industry, he should ask for independent audits on every power station in the country. These should preferably be done by reputable international audit authorities from outside Malaysia. We are told that TNB is now selling off property, power stations are not working at full capacity and that the electricity industry is hugely indebted.
Right now, the country is being fed conflicting reports about energy demand. There is supposed to be a 43% oversupply of electricity capacity in peninsula Malaysia. Experienced Bakun dam watchers will tell you such conflicting and mutually contradictory assertions have been used by the dam proponents to justify every flip flop of this misconceived project.
Show Us the Plan!
Apart from the economic cost and the wastage, how are investors supposed to plan for the long-term and medium term? What is the long-term plan for Bakun? Can Bakun compete with the rest of the world or for that matter, Indonesia?
Aluminium smelters to take up the bulk of Bakun electricity have been mentioned ever since the conception of the Bakun dam project because they are such a voracious consumer of energy. Even so, has there ever been any proper assessment of the market viability of such a project with the cheaper operating costs in China?
Does it matter that the co-owner of one of the smelters is none other than Cahaya Mata Sarawak (CMS) Bhd Group that is controlled by Chief Minister Taib’s family business interest?
Clearly, Bakun energy and Sarawak’s tin pot governance do not give confidence to investors. First it was Alcoa, and then Rio Tinto also had second thoughts about investing in Sarawak.
Damn the Dams
Concerned NGOs have all along called for the abandonment of this monstrous Bakun dam project because it is economically ill-conceived, socially disruptive and environmentally disastrous. The environmental destruction is evident many miles downstream since the whole Bakun area has been logged by those who have already been paid by Sarawak Hidro.
The social atrophy among the 10,000 displaced indigenous peoples at Sungei Asap resettlement scheme remains the wicked testimony of the Mahathir/Taib era. The empty promises and damned lives of the displaced peoples as forewarned by the Concerned NGOs in 1999 have now been borne out.
The economic viability of the Bakun dam project has been in doubt from the beginning and the new scheme to build 12 more dams merely represents multiple follies and a scandalous flaw in planning.
This was from Suaram. The money shot is from a blog post a few days back noting that ‘some 2,000 people from 400 families living downstream of the RM6bil Bakun hydro-electric dam project site in Belaga district in central Sarawak had been served eviction notices by the State Land and Survey Department’.
On the Politics of large dams, see Patrick McCully’s book Silenced Rivers, and an old piece of mine on the Bakun scheme from Left Curve #23 1999 ‘Resettling Bakun: Consultancy, Anthropologists and Development’.
I have written on this before, here, and now it really is time Malaysia decided to lead the world and abolish their outrageous ISA (holdover from the anti-communist Emergency, and legacy of British colonialism). Seriously guys, get rid of this embarrassment, even if it means getting rid of Badawi as well.
GERAKAN MANSUHKAN ISA
Press Statement: 1st August 2008
48 Years of ISA: We have had enough!
1st August marks 48 years of existence of the draconian and infamous law called the Internal Security Act (ISA). The ISA has its origin in the Emergency Regulations Ordinance 1948, which served its purpose and was subsequently repealed when the Emergency ended on 30th July, 1960. However, the power of detention without trial under Regulation 17 was subsequently transformed into Part II of the ISA.
In 1989, ISA detainees’ recourse to the courts of law was further curtailed when we dutifully followed our southern neighbor in ousting judicial review in matters concerning the minister’s power to detain any person under ISA. With the amendment, detainees can now only challenge the detention on procedural grounds.
Abuse and torture under ISA
Under the ISA, detainees are subject to an initial 60-day detention period in special police holding centers, allegedly for the purpose of investigation. No judicial order is required for such detentions. The locations of these holding centers are kept secret, and detainees are transported to and fro in blindfolds. Visits by family members are purely discretionary and, contrary to Article 5(3) of the Federal Constitution, detainees are denied access to lawyers. As a result, the ISA has morphed into a powerful instrument of fear and suppression.
There have been many reports of abuse and torture perpetrated on ISA detainees during their detention. Among them have been: continuous interrogation by Special Branch officers for long hours without any breaks; threat of indefinite detention if detainees fail to answer questions directed by the officers; detainees kept in a small dark room; being forced to drink their own urine etc. There have also been reports of the Police Special Branch (SB) officers hitting the detainees’ penis and inserting hard objects into their anuses. The physical abuse has often been accompanied by vulgar and obscene words.
In a recent case, Sanjeev Kumar Krishnan (25) is now confined to a wheelchair as he has become partially paralyzed as a result of torture while under ISA detention, having lost the function of his left leg and hand. In another case, when the daughter of a current detainee, Shahrial Sirin, was hospitalized in serious condition, authorities delayed permission for him to visit her; by the time he was finally brought to the hospital his daughter had already died.
The Use of ISA under Abdullah Badawi
Since Abdullah Badawi came to power in 2003, the ISA has continued to be used in the same way in the name of “national security”, on people ranging from persons allegedly spreading rumours through SMS, to political dissidents and alleged “terrorists.” In 2007, the government continued its tactic of creating a climate of fear through the use of the ISA, threatening to invoke it upon bloggers who allegedly wrote inflammatory statements and upon those who participated in street demonstrations. This was stepped up in the run-up to the 2008 general election, and has continued to this date to prop up the ruling party’s weakened hold to the power.
Based on GMI’s monitoring, as of 30th June 2008, there were 64 detainees in the Kamunting Detention Camp. Most of them are alleged members of “religious extremist groups” including the Jemaah Islamiah (JI), while another significant number comprises those allegedly involved in counterfeiting currency or falsifying documents, and also THE 5 Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) activists. To date, none of the detainees has been charged with any offence in an open court. More than half of them are into their second detention order and out of that number, 24 are serving their sixth years detention and seven of them namely Yazid bin Suffat, Suhaimi bin Mokhtar, Shahrial @ Syahrial bin Sirin , Abdullah bin Daud , Abdullah Minyak bin Silam , Mat Sah bin Mohd Satray and Shamsuddin bin Sulaiman are serving their seven year of detention.
We have a vast array of laws which provide an adequate legal frame-work to deal with threats against national security, counterfeiting currency or falsifying documents which do not by contravene universally accepted principles of justice and human rights. Why, therefore, is the ISA still needed?
GMI, in existence for more than seven years, has succeeded, through its many programmes, in raising public awareness about the injustice and cruelty of the ISA. It has also been able to put continuous pressure on the government by campaigning at home and abroad. As part of an intensive programme to campaign against the seventh year of detention of a number of current detainees, GMI has produced several publications and pamphlets which have been distributed throughout the country. A candle-light vigil was held outside the Kamunting detention camp on the eve of the sixth anniversary of the longest-standing detentions, and more recently a large public gathering was held in a stadium in Shah Alam.
Since the March 8 general election, with 82 Members Parliament and five states under its controls, the Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Alliance) representatives have shown commitment to free the detainees and repeal the ISA. Several of State Governments concerned have also provided the much needed aid to the detainees’ families. GMI welcomes these commitment and measures taken by the Pakatan Rakyat governments.
GMI is encouraged by the growing public and international support for its campaign and resolves to continue with its work until its aims are achieved. In the following months, GMI will continue to focus on raising public awareness through exhibitions, petition on-line and signature campaigns. Specifically as one of the campaign against 48 years of the draconian ISA, a program open to public, called “Malam Seni ‘Tanpa Bicara'” will be held on the 2nd August 2008 in Bazar Melawati, Taman Melawati, Hulu Kelang, Selangor.
Finally, GMI once more urges the Government of Malaysia:
● To immediately debate SUHAKAM’s reports in Parliament and implement its recommendations to repeal ISA and other restricted laws.
Release all ISA Detainees!
Close down KEMTA!
Weekly Worker 489 Thursday July 17 2003
From Guantanamo to Kumingting to Campsfield, detention without trial is used to divide and rule. John Hutnyk calls for an international working class response…
The resurgent idea of the concentration camp should worry everyone. No doubt we all have picked up along the way some idea of their horrors. Whether the German camps in World War II, or the gulags of Siberia, or even the strategic hamlets of the US ‘police action’ in Vietnam, camp detention degrades us all.
Such horrors can be seen on TV or at the movies, and increasingly contemporary versions can be read of in the press – from the offshore ‘Pacific solution’ and remote desert prisons for immigrants in Australia, to the US razor-wire Camp X-Ray for the Taliban at Guantanamo in Cuba. We are seeing more and more examples, not less.
This article is inspired by the recent success of the Anti-Internal Security Act Campaign in Malaysia, where Reformasi activists held at Kumingting Camp were released after more than two years in detention. As will be shown, however, this success, while welcome, is only a minor victory in a struggle that must be taken up everywhere – the camps are not unique to Malaysia. They have been, and are, a key component of capitalist imperialism – as the British, Australian and US cases show.
Razor-wire enclosures come in several different, but closely linked, forms, and in all cases their use is wholly political. Whether designed to manage the flow of workers into the advanced capitalist enclaves of Europe, America or Australia (asylum and immigration centres) or more explicitly to house political detainees and vanquished enemies or combat alleged threats of the new ‘war on terror’ (Guantanamo, Terrorism Act, ‘homeland security’), the logic is the same. The razor wire is ostensibly designed to control minds and suppress the people.
In Britain, the ‘asylum and immigration system’ is the formal name given to a regime that legislates for the detention of potential settlers and workers, and, along with forced dispersal, deportation and general intimidation – the demonisation of whole communities – this system is intended to work to control population and as such is a political infringement upon the whole working class. Over 1,500 people, mostly asylum-seekers, are presently locked up in detention camps and prisons within Britain and abroad, and have been detained without trial, without time limit and without automatic recourse to bail or public appeal. The detention centres, prisons and asylums are where the New Labour government locks up those who slip through the net of Fortress Europe – where borders and boundaries are set up by the state to limit movement, while capital and goods can move at will (commodity fetishism again). At the present time there are plans to build new detention centres in the UK with a target capacity of 4,000 and the European Union has approved the development of pilot ‘safe haven’ camps overseas, where refugees will be held within the countries they are trying to escape, or nearby (The Guardian June 21).
The constant escalation of talk about such schemes continues to encourage a public fear of ‘foreigners’, and by targeting refugees as a ‘problem’ and asylum-seekers as likely to ‘abuse the system’, people in need become the handy scapegoats with which to brand all immigrants and settlers as unwelcome.
Against this, it is an article of principle that freedom of movement should be accepted, even encouraged and condoned, and as part of our international context should apply to everyone, not just those subject to persecution in their ‘home’ states. Everybody should have the option of travel so that they might chose to move to, settle and work anywhere they like in the world. If capital is free to move across borders, it stands to reason that people, who, as workers, create the value of capital, should also be free to move. The detention centre system is a blockage to workers’ movement, and as such it is as political as the gulags – the fight against them must be taken up as a political fight of the entire class, internationally.
This applies to the more explicitly ‘political’ forms of detention too. If not targeting and demonising asylum-seekers, then the camp mentality targets ‘terrorists’ – on Guantanamo’s Camp X-Ray and since the opening of the global ‘war against terrorism’ there has been a remodelling of the technology of detention camps and it is in our interests to ensure they cannot be used against anyone – not muslims, not even (alleged) criminals, and certainly not against those fleeing political persecution. We should also beware that one day George Bush and Tony Blair may want to put us in such camps – it has been tried before.
Reinventing the McCarthyism of the cold war for new times, thePatriot Act and ‘homeland security’ in the USA gives the state sweeping powers of arbitrary arrest and detention of non-nationals suspected of being involved in terrorism. In Britain, under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act of 2001, police powers of arrest and detention are triggered by mere suspicion that someone may be involved in ‘terrorism’ – including conduct that in itself does not constitute a criminal offence, such as, perhaps, support for a ‘proscribed’ international organisation. The detention of any “foreign national” for an indefinite period without charge or trial because they may be “reasonably” believed to have “links” with terrorism, or are thought to be “a risk” to national security, is the thin edge of an anti-democratic and racist wedge that threatens us all. These attacks upon democracy makes it a potentially detainable offence to advance a “political, religious or ideological” cause, which would include a good many more people than you or I would like to see sent to the salt mines.
In a typical double play, the ‘war on terror’ opens up the possibility of locking away those who threaten the ‘homeland’ with the prospect of political alternatives and those who protest against the devastation imperialism brings to the other side of the international division of labour. Freedom requires the incarceration of others. Security equals war. Nation equals jail. Humanity equals inhumanity. New Labour has lost no time in reintroducing a full raft of imperialist, even totalitarian, legislative measures that impact primarily upon minority and working class communities. Initially the targets are so called “foreign nationals” who can be detained without trial on minister Blunkett’s “reasonable suspicion”, but as the hypocrisy of this demonisation escalates, the consequence is that everyone in Britain – loyal royal subject or not – is placed in jeopardy. The concentration camps must be defeated.
The image of detention has become a media standard. Few, however, experience the comforts of such a camp and come out to tell the story – Tian Chua of Malaysia is one of the few. On release from Kumingting detention camp in June this year, Chua said he had merely “exchanged one small jail for a larger one”. Political expression is at a premium in Malaysia. Interned for two years and three months without trial under the Internal Security Act (ISA), Chua was spuriously accused of plotting an armed uprising; he was beaten, denied food, visitors and communications.
Chapter and verse could be cited about the camps at Buchenwald, Dachau and Auschwitz, but in each case the general point that detention is an ideological weapon as well as a political tool is already explicit. The image of the camps is cultivated in a dubious historical remembrance – selective and sensational, demoralising.
(To those who object to the conflation of the detention centres with concentration camps, the example of the Australian ‘Pacific solution’ should be borne in mind as a ‘final solution’ that abandons people fleeing political and economic austerity to death at sea, rather than by gas chamber. For an Atlantic example: “On June 20, a boat packed with hundreds of African would-be immigrants sank off the city of Sfax on Tunisia’s eastern coast, with only 41 of about 250 on board believed to have survived” (Herald-Sun June 30). Additionally, the modern substitution of the SS with employees of the Wackenhut Corporation does not seem to significantly alter the character of the camps.)
Conveniently the threat of detention silences dissent, engenders despair, occupies activists’ time, dissuades new recruits – its publicity acts in the old Spanish inquisition model of ‘showing the instruments’ – as Giorgio Agamben says, the “display of weapons” characterises the police in all eras: the display of the police power, beyond the law, is made public in the most visible way (G Agamben Means without end: notes on politics, Minneapolis 2000, p105).
Outside the Penang Museum in Malaysia today you can still see an old bullet-ridden Rolls Royce that once was used to ferry viceroys about the Malayan peninsula. The explanation offered for this exhibit, however, is somewhat vague. The bullet holes were earned at the assassination of the high commissioner, Sir Henry Gurney, in October 1951. What is not noted is that this was the highest-level kill achieved by communist insurgents during the so-called Malayan ‘emergency’. What happened in the villages during this ‘emergency’ should be of concern – wholesale detentions that set the model for strategic hamlets in Vietnam.
Malaya was the most profitable part of the empire in the years between World War I and World War II. But with grave shortages of rice and cloth, a malaria epidemic, collapsed plantation and mining infrastructure, this once most lucrative colony became the most difficult to rule. The local Chinese-led communists joined with the Malay community in a mass non-cooperation movement.
Of course international solidarity on the part of mainland Chinese was cast as ‘infiltration’ for propaganda purposes, and when support for the Malay communists came from Britain, this was concealed.
Out of the mass non-cooperation movement there developed popular support for the Communist Party of Malaysia. In reaction to the British declaration of a state of emergency in June 1948, an insurrection began, led by Chin Peng. This insurrection was self-consciously known, on the part of the Chinese and Malays and their international supporters, as a revolutionary war. On the British side it was characterised merely as ‘the emergency’, which was a calculated reference to alibi the declaration of special police powers above and beyond conventional law (non-war, non-Geneva Convention, as now occurs with Guantanamo Bay and the US failure to extend any rights to captured combatants).
Under Colonel WN Gray, appointed direct from Palestine as commissioner of the Malay police, the force expanded to 73,000, plus 17,000 “auxiliaries and Kampong guards” by 1952 (A Stockwell in Anderson, David and Killingray Policing and decolonisation: nationalism, politics and the police 1917-65 Manchester 1992, p110). Gray oversaw the introduction of resettlement and gave the Malay police the major role in defence of ‘new villages’ in order to separate the people from the communists – and food and information.
Stockwell writes: “The emergency regulations gave the police extraordinary powers of search and arrest, control of the movement of persons and traffic, and the authority to impose curfews … in late 1951 it was estimated that some 6,000 persons were being held in detention without trial” (ibid p113, citing O Lyttelton The memoirs of Lord Chandos London 1962, p372).
Detention without trial was the mainstay of the ‘security’ and ‘anti-terrorism’ programme of British rule, even as the insurgency became a war of attrition that effectively drained the colony’s profitability. The combination of communist insurgency and the international climate of anti-colonial pro-independence negotiations meant the British played their old divide-and-rule routine even in the run-up to an inevitable independence.
In July 1955 the Malay leader, Tunku Abdul Rahman, headed a coalition of the UMNO (United Malay National Organisation), MCA (Malay Chinese Association) and MIC (Malay Indian Congress) to victory in the first ‘federal’ election of the Malay colony. As the British debated handing over internal security and policing to the new chief minister, Tunku Rahman suggested an amnesty for the communists and with Chin Peng opened talks (A Stockwell in Anderson, David and Killingray Policing and decolonisation: nationalism, politics and the police 1917-65, Manchester 1992, p120). Chin Peng wisely offered peace as soon as independence, and control over security, was achieved. The British moved to forestall such alliance-making by granting Tunku immediate control of internal security through a ‘guided’ police service commission.
After independence in 1957 a gradual Malaysianisation of the upper echelons of the still predominantly Malay police force was implemented and Stockwell reports that the Malaysia police retained “a paramilitary role, [it] is centrally organised and has extensive powers of arrest of persons and seizure of property … like its predecessor it has been accused of acting as the instrument of repressive government, infringing civil liberties and neglecting ‘normal policing’” (ibid p122). The continuity of colonialist methods is shown in the fact that there have been 4,000 ISA arrests since independence: cases in 1987 numbered 106; in 2001-2002 over 60. These numbers are not as extensive as during the emergency, but the same strategy prevails in the absence of any form of insurgency – the ISA used as a tool of ideological repression. More rule than divide today.
When Tian Chua says he has swapped one prison for another, he refers to this heritage of so-called post-colonial Malaysia, where the ruling clique has adopted the policing strategies of British colonialism. Chua was originally detained with six others as part of a crackdown on Reformasi opposition leaders by Mahathir. Subsequent to September 11 2001, Mahathir has tried to present himself as a moderate muslim, yet curries favour with the US administration, detaining at least 170 alleged muslim ‘terrorists’ under the ISA laws – so similar to those adopted in Britain today. As I write, there are still 99 detainees being held at the Kamunting detention camp without trial.
Mahathir has been working closely with the British and US administration to set up a regional ‘counter-terrorism’ centre in Kuala Lumpur (L Fekete ‘Cynical manoeuvres in the war against terror’CARF 2000: 69, p12). Although the government alleged the present detainees have been involved in terrorist activities, no evidence has been produced to substantiate this allegation. Some of these detainees have been held without trial for almost three years. They languish in Kumingting while Chua tries to mobilise a campaign to demand their release. It cannot be stressed enough that they have not been charged, and they have not been tried. The ISA law under which they are held is a political law of suppression, incompatible with even the most rudimentary forms of democracy – and such laws are being adopted worldwide.
As with those who cross the borders of Fortress Europe or are interned in similar camps or prisons in Burma, Indonesia, Australia, the USA, these laws ensure people who protest are subject to political repression. In this respect detention degrades us all – the struggle must be international against the camps.
Having lost interest in the age-old sport of taunting ‘communists’ (with the House Un-American Activities Committee, witch-hunts and persecutions of the McCarthy period), the technology of detention camps awaited a new crop of recruits – mostly they turn out to be muslims, whether refugees from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, or alleged ‘terrorists’. To release those who have been detained without trial must be a first priority. If the detainees in any of the camps at Guantanamo, Kumingting or Campsfield have committed any kind of ‘crime’, there has been more than enough time to charge and try them – if they have not been charged and tried by now, they must be set free. They should not have been detained in the first place. To continue to ignore the atrocities of these criminal incarcerations makes us guilty of far worse crimes against ourselves than any enemy, real or imagined, could commit.
The new concentration camp detentions are an ideological weapon as well as a political tool. The opportunist uses of detention vary: in the one case we might find it used to deter others from the dissenting views that the detainees are held for, as I think we see in Malaysia. In another case we can see detention given a high profile in order to placate an already placid public, as in Britain where the detention of asylum-seekers and ‘terrorists’ is given much publicity (this spurious link is explicitly made, even though it has no empirical basis in law beyond a few traces of castor oil bean extract at an asylum-seeker’s flat – tanks deployed at Heathrow in response). The numerical incidence of detention here is insignificant in terms of government calculation of some sort of deterrent effect on asylum claims or immigration in general. It is a shameless appeal to the mass voting public, via the tabloid press, that alibis detention.
A third use of detention silences opposition leaders. The British used this tactic in India against the non-cooperation movement, even locking up Gandhi, and this is a part of the rationale behind the so-called anti-terrorist detentions in the US and the UK. As we have seen, detention can also take the form of the strategic hamlet: the village protected from itself. We often see this as capitalism responds to its critics.
Against the detention camps in our minds that excuse the demonisation of people as queue-jumpers, terrorists, communists, asylum-seekers, migrants, the slippage to all of us must be made clear. Against the detention camps in the concrete – at Campsfield; surrounding Fortress Europe; being built by New Labour; and internationally from Kumingting to Guantanamo Bay. The double prisons demand a break-out from the razor-wire security fences everywhere.
The campaign against the camps must be political. The liberal assurance that due process will sort out the true terrorists and illegal immigrants from those who ‘have no reason to worry’ is as naive as it is stupid – the bourgeois legislative process is patently faulty, as numerous examples show, and the definition of ‘illegal’, and indeed ‘terrorist’, is dubious in the extreme (who, and how, can a person be considered ‘illegal’ just through fact of travel?). Of course the government, keen to ensure its everlasting rule, will use all and every means it can to prevent challenges to that rule. The new security legislation in Britain empowers it to act to suppress any ‘political’ or ‘economic’ threat to its dominance.
Capital is necessarily an anti-democratic force, and its use of a farcical version of vote-every-four-years, forget-me-not ‘democracy’ is maintained through spin, degraded education, tamed media and lack of vision, backed up with armed force – in the interests of short-term profit and long-term rule. Of course the government will say, ‘If you have nothing to hide, no need to worry’, but history is replete with examples of whole communities, whole nationalities, being demonised on the basis of ‘terrorism’, without justification.
Sending people to detention centres without trial constitutes a political attack upon us all; that the detention centres contain the political and the economic detainee at the same time should indicate why this is important to communists – the political and the economic are combined, someone once said. The old tactic of the bourgeoisie is one that aims to exploit divisions in the class, encouraging racism against workers who come from ‘elsewhere’ – as if that difference were more significant than shared exploitation by the bosses. Against this, and the new anti-terrorism legislations, here and abroad, a defence of the democratic rights of those sections of the working class who are to be the immediate target of these measures – asylum-seekers, settlers, minority communities – must be seen as part of the struggle for the democratic rights of the entire working class. Without this struggle, the political expression so necessary for any serious mobilisation of the people is under threat.
As a matter of principle, communists should be against all restrictions on migration and political expression, whether that of political refugees or of so-called economic migrants (as if these categories were really borne of different means). Border controls are fundamental to the refusal of capitalism to countenance an integrated labour market. Were workers on either side of the international division of labour not so separated, the polarisation between reserve armies of labour and active workers would tend to be eroded, and with progressive consequences for the class struggle – as Marx noted, when he wrote: “Workers of the world, unite”.
The potential of that slogan becomes clear when we are confronted with immigration law, detention and the camps – a key dimension of our struggle. The abolition of immigration controls, and opposition to any initiatives that support such controls, must be an immediate aim. Detention centres are fundamentally an attack upon all workers as a class – they restrict the freedom of movement and freedom of expression of labour in a world where capital moves and speaks unhindered. This cannot go on.