This year’s Suaram Human Rights Awards go to HINDRAF (Hindu Rights Action Force) and the Penans of Ulu Baram, Sarawak.
SUARAM’s Malaysia Civil and Political Rights Report 2008 shows we are a long way from being truly democratic and free.
HINDRAF had, within a short period of time, captivated, mobilised, and empowered vast numbers of Malaysians of Indian ethnic origin to struggle against very powerful interests and forces. It has also made a big impact on the political scene in 2008 and its rise has in fact surprised and captured the imagination of many Malaysians, and has also given inspiration to others.
The joint winner, the Penans of Ulu Baram in Sarawak had been defending their traditional lands from encroachment, especially by loggers, since the early 1980s.
The violations faced by the Penans are extreme and sometimes violent. They have struggled against very powerful forces representing the collusion of political powers, business, the police, military, timber companies and oil palm companies.
The other nominees were Komuniti Kampong Chang Sungai Gepai, Bidor, Perak; BERSIH (Coalition for Clean & Fair Elections); Malaysian Bar Council Human Rights Committee; & the Urban Settlers of Kampong Berembang, Selangor.
The appended background of the Award is from SUARAM’s official records:
On the 10th anniversary celebration of SUARAM and in conjunction with the World Human Rights Day 1999, SUARAM initiated a human rights award in recognition of local communities and collectives in their outstanding and inspiring endeavors to protect and promote human rights activism in Malaysia.
Previous winners have been diverse in their causes, but all of them have overcome tremendous hardships and tribulations in the fight for human rights.
In 1999, the inaugural award was bestowed on the people of Kampung Sungai Nipah, an urban settler community that had struggled against the authorities, developers and gangsters for their land rights.
Winners in the subsequent years were the Reformasi Movement (2000); Save Our Schools Damansara and wives of ISA detainees (2001, joint winners); Police Watch & Human Rights Committee (2002); the former plantation workers¢ community of Ladang Braemar (2003); the Kuala Kuang villagers and the workers of Euromedical Industries (2004, joint winners); the Temuan Orang Asli Community from Kampung Bukit Tampoi in Dengkil (2005); and the Chin Refugee Committee and the Bukit Jelutong plantation community (2006, joint winners).
Last year, the award was presented to joint winners: The Coalition against Healthcare Privatisation, for its efforts and persistence in opposing further privatisation of the healthcare system in Malaysia; and the residents of Kampung Sungai Terentang, Rawang, for their continuous efforts of the villagers to stop the installation of higher capacity high-tension transmission lines across the village.