Human Rights Day 2010 on 10 December recognizes the work of human rights defenders worldwide who act to end discrimination of race, gender, religion or any other basis inconsistent with basic principles or values of humanity, freedom and justice.
Welcome to Penang, the state of free speech with the first Speaker’s Square in the country where in the immortal words of Voltaire, “We may disagree with you but we will defend to the death your right to disagree with me”. It gives me great honour to be invited to celebrate this day with all you heroes and heroines of those who were deprived, dispossessed and denied of their basic human rights.
Acting alone or in groups within their communities, every day human rights defenders work to end discrimination by campaigning for equitable and effective laws, reporting and investigating human rights violations and supporting victims. While some human rights defenders are internationally renowned, many remain anonymous and undertake their work often at great personal risk to themselves and their families.
Amnesty International is one of the organisations who work hard to protect the rights of the people and especially for the human rights defenders. Letter Writing Marathon is Amnesty International’s Global Initiative to mobilise the public to speak up about various human rights violations which happens worldwide in a form of personal letters. This also fosters international solidarity in which to end human rights violation beyond one’s own country. Amnesty International believes that, sending letters is one of the most effective ways for individuals to communicate their concerns to people who are responsible for violating human rights and to those in position to influence their actions.
In 1997, I was convicted on sedition charges and sentenced to 18 months prison sentence for trying to defend an underaged girl who was detained even though she was a rape victim. It was appalling that she was detained whilst her rapists got off scot-free. I have used this incident as an example of my dedication to social justice, especially female sex victims. During the time of my detention, Amnesty International categorised me as a ‘Prisoner of Conscience’. They campaigned tirelessly for my release. Its members petitioned for my release and I received letters of solidarity when I was detained. The letters of solidarity that I received brightened my days whilst in prison. I am very thankful to Amnesty International for their support and aid during my bleak times in prison. Let me reiterate again how important it is to write letters of solidarity to all prisoners of conscience as it does save lives!
These letters remind us that we are not alone in our struggles for human dignity. When one is incarcerated in a dinghy and lonely cell, we are so cut off from civilisation that we feel alone and disconnected as if no one cares. These letters uplifts our spirits, gives us hope and even courage to continue and past by another tortuous day in our cell. Getting letters from places far away and other continents lends a certain charm and fills us with wonderment that people from exotic places remember a prisoner of conscience languishing in cells that our own citizens have forgotten. Thank you for nourishing my spirit and renewing my faith in all things good that good shall come to those who do good.
Nowadays, human rights abuse still happen in our country. One of the major scenes is Deaths in Custody. In Malaysia, it happens and many a time, these deaths could have been avoided if there was sufficient monitoring and better health care of prisoners or detainees in the places of detention. “A total of 279 suspects have been shot dead by the police between 2000 and 2009, while 147 died in police lockups during the same period.” ( Malaysiakini , 28 June 2010, 426 deaths at hands of the police since 2000).
Beside of these, one of the key campaigns of Amnesty International is the Demand Dignity Campaign, which Amnesty International believes that the people who live in poverty facing the human rights abuse as their basic need were not fulfilled. The new PR Penang State Government had given priority to eradicate hard-core poverty and had succeeded in doing in one year what could not be done in the previous 51 years.
Penang has eradicated hard core poverty by running a state led program to assist hard core poor families with income below RM500 to be topped up to that level so that they can move out of that category. This program has indeed helped many poor families in Penang to be able to receive some form of financial aid.
We are now focusing on our long-term goal of wiping out poverty per se, Just as we were the first to wipe out hard-core poverty in Malaysia, we hope to be first to wipe out poverty in Malaysia.
Apart from trying to become the first hard-core poverty-free state in Malaysia, Penang will also be the first state not to give out free plastic bags beginning 1 January 2011. These measures together with other environmental measures will assist in our long-term goal of becoming the first green state in Malaysia.
At last, I would like to congratulate Amnesty International and all the Penang Local NGOS for working hard to promote and protect the human rights. On this note, it is with great pleasure that I declare the Human Rights Day Celebration 2010 officially launched.
Speech by Chief Minister of Penang, Lim Guan Eng at the Human Rights Day Celebration 2010 in George Town on 12.12.2010: