yesterday, i sat in the same circle as representatives from a few human rights ngos and of refugee communities from myanmar and palestine. linda briskman, a professor from curtin university, australia, came by to deliver a talk on the people’s inquiry into detention, which led to the publication of the book “human rights overboard“.
she spoke about how refugees are either turned away while still drifting in the middle of the ocean or sent to detention centres on remote islands far from the mainland. she told us about the inhumane manner in which they were treated, especially under the howard administration. she highlighted several cases in which detainees lit fires in detention centres out of desperation in an attempt to escape as well as to draw attention to their plight. of course the story of the tampa, a norwegian vessel that was involved in a tussle with australian immigration parties in 2001, came up in the discussion. it was, after all, one of the major incidents that brought about a change in immigration and detention policies in australia following the change in government (as nicely summarised by a year 8 student here).
then, the malaysian bodies spoke up…and the professor was obviously appalled by the state of affairs in this country.
it is a well-known fact that malaysia is a country of corruption. it is so ingrained in our culture that if every person who has ever discussed the issue of corruption over roti canai at a mamak stall were to be locked up, pretty much the entire population would be behind bars. we bribe our way through summonses, exams, business deals. our homes and highways are unsafe because of under the table money. the leaders we vote into power to act in our interest obtain land and property through crooked measures. there is never enough well-managed money left to be channeled into the causes that matter most.
however, what really takes the cake is the picture painted by the various organisations that were present yesterday. corruption and human trafficking/smuggling. government bodies and rouges in league, treating people like commodities that can be traded, given a price tag and exploited in a shockingly well-oiled syndicate. but what happens before that is they are kept in detention centres in conditions documented by a woman who endured a 13-year trial for making known the untold stories of detainees in malaysia.
i can rant about how things are still so bad now that only an international outrage, similar to the one faced by australia in recent years, can put enough pressure on the government to make changes and persecute those responsible for such heinous behaviour towards fellow human beings. i can also rant about how frustrating it must be for advocates of human rights that our leaders have chosen to adopt an “out of sight, out of mind” policy when it comes to things like this.
but being able to rant is secondary to the power of knowledge i have now about the pressing human rights issues in malaysia. that’s probably of more value than mere eloquence.
i cannot be a full-time advocate for human rights. i know i’m not cut out for it. it is a personally devastating revelation, but i have to accept the fact that some people can be “tellers of uncomfortable truths” like irene fernandez et al and others can’t. perhaps in the future i can contribute by helping to write papers like this one by medecins sans frontieres (doctors without borders), but i just don’t have the patience, perseverance and incredible strength to bring those reports to authorities and international forums and work relentlessly to put pressure on the government to make changes.
the very least i can do is include links to various articles in my blog posts. i can hope that the few people who read this will take the time to click on them and perhaps be interested enough to search for more stories on the web. it doesn’t really matter what you do with the information – affirm your decision to one day leave malaysia, forward the links to a friend, be inspired to do something anything – but what’s important is that you know.
we can’t afford to continue to be selfish, ignorant, apathetic youths. we just can’t afford to anymore.