A conference in Kuala Lumpur next week, called the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Consultation on the International Criminal Court (ICC), represents a rare triumph of bipartisanship in Malaysian politics.
The conference on March 9-10, to be held in Parliament House, has resulted from the collaboration of Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz and DA
P MP for Ipoh Barat M Kulasegaran, who has parlayed his interest in the law to deterrent effect against "crimes against humanity".
Initially adverse to each other – Nazri had in one speech in the term of the 12th Parliament (2004-08) called Kulasegaran a racist 36 times – the two MPs from Perak have shed their reflexive partisanship to come together on the issue of the universality of the ICC.
In May last year, 'Kula', as he is commonly referred to, who handles the international affairs portfolio in DAP, succeeded in getting Nazri, minister in charge of parliamentary affairs, to attend a conference in Kampala on the ICC.
The MP for Padang Rengas sat throughout the two-day conference in the Ugandan capital and took notes on the deliberations of delegates who were mainly from Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA), the international NGO that has become a pressure group for wider acceptance of statues of the ICC.
In other words, PGA wants all 200-plus members of the United Nations to become signatories of the ICC, the body that since its setting up in 2002, has become the chief vehicle for the prosecution of individuals thought to be guilty of "crimes against humanity".
Malaysia not signatory of ICC
According to Kulasegaran, some 80 percent of UN members have already signed up as ICC members. Malaysia, like the United States, China and India, has reservations about the ICC and are reluctant to join.
Kulasegaran is cautiously optimistic that Nazri's interest and assiduity at the Kampala conference last year augured well for a change in the Malaysian government's position on the ICC.
"As far as the former minister of foreign affairs, Syed Hamid Albar, was concerned, the Malaysian government's reservations about the ICC were that acceptance of its jurisdiction would detract from our status as an Islamic country and a constitutional monarchy," said Kula.
"He felt that as an Islamic country we cannot accept another legal jurisdiction and as a constitutional monarchy we derogate from the supremacy of our law under our monarchial disposition," Kula elaborated.
"But I told him that a country like Jordan which is an Islamic country and an absolute monarchy has become a member and so there is no reason for Malaysia to stay away," he asserted.
"Nazri appears to keep an open mind about the issue of our membership but the critical person is the attorney-general whose opinion would be decisive in this matter," offered Kula.
AG to attend conference
Attorney-general Abdul Gani Patail is scheduled to take part in the conference whose keynote address will be delivered by Sang-Hyun Song, the famed Korean jurist who is president of the ICC.
The conference is being held at a crucial moment in world affairs
because of the "crimes against humanity" perceived to have been committed in Sri Lanka, when that country's armed forces obliterated the Tamil Tigers' insurgency in 2009, and presently in Libya, where the Gaddafi regime has resorted to brutality in a, thus far, unsuccessful attempt to quell widespread unrest.
The thrust of ICC statues requires members to institute internationally monitored mechanisms for the prosecution of "crimes against humanity" that are reported to have been committed within a nation-state.
The ICC will institute such mechanisms if the nation-state declines to carry out their own – internationally monitored – investigations and prosecutions.
All it requires is for a resolution of the United Nations Security Council for an ICC investigation-cum-prosecution to proceed.
Dictators in need of medical treatment
In recent years, Sudan's ruler, Omar Bashir, has been indicted by the ICC for genocide in Darfur. Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic, and Charles Taylor of Liberia, have been hauled up before the ICC for similar offences
Suffice to say, the impunity once enjoyed by brutal dictators for "crimes against humanity" is becoming a thing of the past. One has only to recall the famous case in 1997 when former Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet was placed under house arrest in London by then British home secretary Jack Straw on the strength of a warrant for his arrest issued by a Spanish judge under European Union strictures.
The case became an international cause célèbre as both sides to the issue debated the proprietary of the EU statues with regard to a man who had repaired to London for specialist medical treatment. Pinochet was finally released but the contretemps did have a dete
rrent effect of sorts. Sometime shortly afterwards, Izzat Ibrahim, then deputy to Saddam Hussein in running the Baathist regime in Iraq, checked into a hospital in Austria for treatment.
When a judge in Vienna applied for a warrant of arrest, the leukemia-stricken Izzat slipped out of the country before the order could be served on him. Who would discount that among the effects of the Regional Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Consultation of the ICC next week in Kuala Lumpur would be that ailing members of the Burmese junta would think twice before checking into a Singapore hospital. Burma's dictator Than Shwe (right) sought treatment in Singapore a few years back. Unlike Izaat, he was unfazed, but for how long more.