The ICJ condemned the passage of the National Security Council bill by Malaysia’s House of Representatives today. The passage of the bill underlines the need to establish reforms in the lawmaking processes in the country, the Geneva-based organization says.
The ICJ calls on the Government of Malaysia to undertake these reforms immediately.
The bill, hastily tabled at the House of Representatives on 1 December 2015 by the Government, was passed by a vote of 107 in favour and 77 against the proposal.
Members of the ruling party, Barisan Nasional, voted overwhelmingly in its favor.
The vote took place despite repeated calls from Malaysian civil society, opposition lawmakers, and human rights advocates to delay consideration to allow for extensive debate and adequate consultations on the draft legislation.
The ICJ deplored the manner in which the government steamrolled the bill to passage.
“The same rushed maneuvers occurred when the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) and amendments of the Sedition Act were hastily passed in parliament earlier this year,” observed Emerlynne Gil, ICJ’s Senior International Legal Adviser for Southeast Asia.
“There seems to be a disturbing pattern of avoiding deliberative care on legislation that is both addressed to serious security concerns that have the greatest implications for human rights,” she added.
The ICJ considers that the poorly conceived legislation gives overbroad powers to the Prime Minister and the security forces which is inconsistent with the rule of law and could lead to serious human rights violations
The bill establishes a National Security Council (NSC) that will be the central authority in the government on matters pertaining to national security.
The NSC will be headed by the Prime Minister and composed of the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Defence, Minister of Home Affairs, Minister of Communication and Multimedia, Chief Secretary, the Commander of the Armed Forces, and Inspector-General of Police.
Under the bill, the Prime Minister is granted the power to declare any part of Malaysia as a “security area” if it is found by the NSC that such area is under serious threat from any person or entity that could harm the general public, the economy, infrastructure or other national interests.
Any part of the country may be declared a “security area” by the Prime Minister for up to six months and the declaration may be renewed an infinite number of times.
A Director of Operations is also to be appointed to oversee the operations over the “security areas”.
The specific powers of the Director of Operations are left vague, but they are overbroad and therefore prone to abuse.
They apparently include authority to prevent any person from entering these “security areas”, to transfer persons out of these areas, to impose curfews, and at least temporarily, to take possession of any property necessary in the interest of national security or for the accommodation of the security team.
The security team under the Director of Operations will have the power to conduct warrantless arrests and warrantless searches and seizures.
There are no processes specified by which affected persons may challenge such actions, either before a court or administrative body, nor are there other procedural safeguards.
Any members of the security team would be authorized to “use any amount of force against a person or entity to the extent that is reasonable and necessary within the circumstances to protect national security”.
The ICJ notes that under international law, lethal force may only be used to the extent strictly necessary to protect life.
Finally, the draft law provides immunity from any legal proceeding for members of the NSC, the Director of Operations, the security team, and other government staff involved in the administration of the “security area” for carrying out their duties and functions under the law.
There is no exception even in cases involving serious violations of human rights and crimes under international law, for which immunity is not permitted.
“The wide ranging powers conferred to members of the NSC and the security team clearly lack any form of safeguards and will inevitably lead to arbitrary exercise of authority, in contravention of the rule of law. This bill could very likely be used to further restrict freedom of expression and opinion and other rights in the country,” said Emerlynne Gil.
Vague and overbroad language in laws are inconsistent with the rule of law, contravening the principle of legality, the ICJ says.
This poses particular hazards in respect of national security legislation.
The bill will now need to be passed by the Senate and thereafter, the Malaysian King will have to assent to it so that it becomes law.
The ICJ expects the bill to be passed by the Senate and assented to by the King without thorough deliberations.
Nevertheless, it still calls on both the Senate and the King to reject the present draft, with a view to returning it the House to make necessary reforms in line with the rule of law.
Emerlynne Gil, ICJ Senior Legal Adviser (Bangkok), t: +66840923575, e: emerlynne.gil(a)icj.org