“I believe that the law on Human Rights is a necessary complement to the rules and regulations such as the Constitution that governs the nation. More so, its importance is elevated in the contemporary era of democracy. Without Human Rights people lose their rights to be relevant; for their rights to be taken into account if they could be affected by certain administrative decisions, for their rights to be respected by the authorities and neighbours and for these rights to be sufficiently protected.
The law on Human Rights is the value of the people codified, a foundation to the justification of the basic requisites to be a human, balanced by, inter alia, the general considerations on national security and moral standards, existing political and cultural institutions.”
These were the exact words I had filled the blank space with the question “What do you know about Human Rights?” when I was in the process of completing my application to participate in the Strategic Litigation Camp 2015, which was to be held on the 7th, 8th and 9th of August in El Sanctuary, Melaka.
Despite the successful attempt to string together words that depicted human rights, I must admit what I knew about human rights was limited to what I had learned from the books, let alone the technical term ‘strategic litigation’. I am a firm believer that cognitive learning will not be achieved, or simply, learning itself will not be complete if the axis of theories and practice do not meet. Breakthroughs had been made in the history when theories were stretched further to put endless possibilities to the test. By adopting the outcome of theoretical learning in practice it also aids in the constant advancement and improvement of, including but not limited to, the administrative measures and social policies in a society.
The day I received the confirmation email that I was accepted to participate in the camp, I knew this was going to be a big push forward, a step towards clarity in my disorientated journey of being a young adult.
It was the first day when we arrived at the camp site. Soon after we settled down in our respective chalets and having had our lunch, our first session started. We were introduced to and invited to add on to the ground rules by one of our facilitators, Khairil Zhafri. We were slow to speak up as many were still adjusting ourselves to the new environment and comrades for the next 2 days.
The progress to getting ourselves acclimatised was rather speedy. After the afternoon break, words could be heard blooming from the lips of the participants. Intelligent questions raised and series of intellectual discussions ensued. The first day’s focus was on preparing us for our bigger missions of the remaining period in the camp.
I would say the session with Ms. Long Seh Lih on the Introduction to Strategic Litigation had genuinely widened my horizon on what the subject matter was about. When we were asked to explain what we thought strategic litigation was, some of us had said it was about incorporating the fundamental values of human rights in litigating while some of us uttered it was to challenge the exercise of public bodies by judicial review. However, I would not have known that its definition encompassed such a wide spectrum of functions and influence from bringing social, legal and political change by using an individual case of human rights violation, that is, to create judicial precedents, to instigate reform of national laws which are not compatible with international human rights law.
For the rest of the day we were taught to recognise the International Human Rights framework where we were introduced to various organs in the United Nations and their functions. In-depth discussions had been had on what constituted ‘dignity’ from the eyes of the human rights law. We had approached the term ‘dignity’ from 4 different aspects, namely, as a right against torture and inhumane treatment, from the perspective of death penalty, of group identity and culture as well as from the viewpoint of the Economic and Social Council where it was thought to be an affront to one’s dignity if one is denied basic necessities such as shelter, adequate housing, water and so on.
Later, lots were drawn and and three pieces of mahjong paper could be seen stuck on the wall labeled with different categories. There were ‘I can help decide’, ‘My right to be me’ and ‘Don’t interfere with us’. When we unfolded the tiny square, each of us received a different number of the Article from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We were supposed to group the Articles to the respective categories we thought they belonged. Although one might overlap the other, the exercise had improved our ability in better recognising the ambit of each Article.
The last session of the day was on Women’s Rights: Lived Realities and the Law by Ms. Sherrie. We were told to list down the various problems encountered by women and the measures available, or not, domestically and internationally. Many of us referred to the article “Measuring Up to CEDAW: How Far Short Are Malaysian Laws and Policies?” by Honey Tan.
The night then ended with a high note. Staring at the wooden roof of the chalet and listening to the symphony played by the orchestra of nature, I fell asleep feeling thankful for the choice I made for my future.
On the next day, the morning had greeted us with the first session with Mr. Daniel J Albert on S41 of the Legal Profession Act 1976: Legal Profession and Practice. Mr. Daniel explained to us the role of the Malaysian Bar and how it is respected by many countries for the spirit of its members who have, for instance, volunteered in contributing financially to the legal aid centre run by the Bar Council so that legal services could be accessed by all. The Malaysian Bar is special in that no other body in the country has spoken out so consistently on pressing issues that matter for the past 40 years.
It was explained that the object and powers of the Bar is a concept of the rule of law as opposed to rule by men. We were reminded of the spirit of S42(1)(a) which stipulates that the purpose of the Malaysian Bar shall be to uphold the cause of justice without regard to its own interests or that its members, uninfluenced by fear or favour.
We were then asked to state the motivation as aspiring lawyers, the challenges which may head our way and the tools we could be best equipped to overcome it. Among the discussions, one point that is worth highlighting in my personal view is that in order for young lawyers to uphold S42 or even to be an activist to fight for their faith, family support and encouragement is of utmost significance. When asked about his motivation, Ethan, a comrade at camp, stated that ‘through law, only life makes sense’. He further explained that law governed every aspect of our lives and chaos would befall the human kind if there was no structure by law to hold the society together.
Games and mock forums were incorporated in the session by Ms. Firdaus Husni to familiarise us with constitutional rights and its challenges within and Mr. Khairil Zhafri taught us to build our action pyramid when litigation is deemed inadequate.
As the night closes in, we settled in groups to prepare for mooting the next day. The facilitators had moved around groups to brief us on the specific steps we should take to prepare for our submission. My group was assigned the role of the watching brief for the Conservative Christian Group on the Daphne Iking case which concerns S498 of the Penal Code.
The night was wearing away with some of us flipping diligently the pages of the bundle provided while the rest had their eyes glued to the screens of their Macbooks. There were occasional shouts when precious points for our argument were thought to be found. Sometimes misled, other times were genuine ‘voila!’ moments. Before we knew it, it was 4 o’clock in the morning. My dear comrades were resembling owls with heavy eyelids that were going to fall off their birch!
We sent in our submission by 8 o’clock in the morning, the deadline given. Soon after breakfast, the moot court session commenced. I felt a lump in my throat as tension seeped into my veins. However, being surrounded by courageous warriors of words of law I decided to join forces with them to maximise my learning experience at the camp. I must admit that I was immensely impressed by the eloquence of the participants’ speeches. Their ability to articulate their arguments in such a coherent manner gave me the sense of pride that these are the future pillars of our country.
Through the process, we learned the appropriate manner to address the panel of judges and to respond to questions raised by judges. The session intentionally mimicked the intensity that would be present in a courtroom to enable maximum learning opportunities.
The 3 days I spent at Strategic Litigation Camp breathed a new life in my pursuit. It was a stark reminder of why I had chosen to embark on the path of law in the first place. Being a lawyer would be stripped of its core if a cause you believe is worth fighting is not fought for by the initial flame which ignited the very ambition in you. If human rights/constitutional matters are the trigger points of your passion, I say, go for it! And don’t you worry about earning big bucks, when you work for passion, money sneaks into your pocket without you asking!
The art of advocacy“No matter how hopeless the cause, however unmeritorious the client, notwithstanding the antipathy of the judge, irrespective of the risk to his own reputation, which may be preying on the mind of the lawyer, what counsel must do is to follow and defend the great tradition of advocacy : to make mountains out of molehills, to find a point of law where none had previously known to exist, to ensure that his client does not lose the case without everything possible (and, on occasion, some things impossible) being said on his behalf.“
Click here to view the pictures of Strategic Litigation Camp 2015.
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