While Lawyers for Liberty in principle supports the setting up of the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on immigration problems in Sabah, it views with concern the escalating rhetoric and demands surrounding the RCI that may have serious repercussion on the lives and human rights of some of the most vulnerable people in Sabah including undocumented women and street children of refugee/ migrant descent. Many live in poverty and a life of exploitation, unable to access basic social services but are also unfairly blamed and easily targeted by politicians for social ills in the state.
It goes without saying that all citizenship matters including grant of citizenship, identity documents and registration in the electoral roll must be conducted properly and in accordance with established laws, regulations and practises and not through corrupt practises, fraud or for improper political gains.
Sabah like any other bustling frontier territory attracts both short and long term cross border migration, some who have entered and stayed legally, while others illegally. However, in our endeavour to enquire into wrongful past practises, we must be mindful that these are generations of migrants and refugees with varying histories and circumstances, many of whom have permanently settled in Sabah, inter married, born or lived all their lives in the state.
Consequently, these people may have properly acquired citizenship or permanent resident status and all the accompanying rights. They have a relevant and genuine link with Sabah/Malaysia (through birth, habitual residence, descent, marriage or naturalisation) and rights under Malaysian and international law including not to be made stateless, freedom from arbitrary arrest/detention, torture, inhumane and other degrading treatment and right to life.
While the issues at stake are serious and have far reaching consequences, the citizenship and fundamental human rights of persons should not be sacrificed for the sake of political mileage or sensationalism.
Lawyers for Liberty therefore calls for all parties to remain level headed and not let prejudicial, racist or xenophobic sentiments to slant the enquiry which should be conducted objectively and based on all available evidence, testimonies and legal norms.
Lawyers for Liberty
15 August 2012