In her first rodeo writing for this awesome blawg and interning at the magical PusatRakyatLB, Allyna Ng shares her experience at the camp.
From 26-29 July 2018, a group of 17 participants and 5 facilitators gathered in Melaka for the 2018 Strategic Litigation Camp (SLC). The camp was jointly organized by the Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism and Human Rights (MCCHR) and the United Kingdom & Eire Malaysian Law Students’ Union (KPUM).
As a last-minute sign-up to SLC, I didn’t know what to expect from the camp (besides the fact that as a MCCHR intern, I had better show up and be on my best behavior).
It’s a testament to the hard work and dedication of trainers and organizing committee, therefore, that despite minimal preparation, I left the camp with new friendships, enriching experiences, and a renewed passion for lawyering.
I write this piece partly because it’s one of my internship requirements (sigh, such is the life of Lord Bobo’s minions), but mostly as an attempt to immortalize some of the lessons I learnt – in the hopes that future me (read: 45-year-old lawyer, jaded and disillusioned by the frustrations and challenges of attempting to create social change through the Malaysian legal system) will someday look back on this experience and remember why I chose to do this.
Here are some of my highlights from SLC 2018:
Over meals and in between sessions, participants were encouraged to engage and interact with SLC’s five facilitators – Sherrie Razak, Priscilla Chin, Rajsurian Pillai, Aisya Abdul Rahman and Khairil Zhafri. Given their collective wisdom and experience in public interest litigation and human rights issues, the genuineness and humility displayed by the facilitators was disarming. From the very first session, emphasis was placed on mutual learning and sharing instead of one-way impartation of information.
Conversations with Sherrie taught me the importance of treating court staff with respect, and of the reality of making mistakes and getting scolded as a junior lawyer. From Khairil I learnt to be braver in voicing my (sometimes politically incorrect) thoughts; from Priscilla I learnt that we are all still learning. SLC gave me a glimpse into life as part of a community working towards human rights progress in Malaysia
Aisya, armed with her knowledge in public international law, educated us on international human rights instruments such as the Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as well as the structure of the United Nations. It was interesting to note the interplay between domestic and international elements, with national organisations such as SUHAKAM and COMANGO working to hold the government accountable through mechanisms such as the Universal Periodic Review.
Raj, Priscilla and Sherrie spoke on the primary elements of the Federal Constitution and the Legal Professions Act 1976. We explored the fundamental freedoms enshrined in Part II of the Constitution as well as constitutional issues such as the separation of powers in Malaysia. I quickly realized that I was out of my depth by how little I knew about Malaysian law – the extent of my legal knowledge being limited to a year of studying English law.
I was struck by section 42 of the LPA, which highlights that the primary object of the Malaysian Bar is “to uphold the cause of justice without regard to its own interests or that of its members, uninfluenced by fear or favour” – so rare it is that an institution explicitly disavows the interests of its members, what more in favour of such an elusive concept as justice.
Khairil introduced the three elements of human rights advocacy: litigation, demonstration and legislation. Strategic litigation being the overlap between litigation and demonstration, he emphasized the need for public advocacy in addition to court litigation. We were then asked to create our own Action Pyramids at address issues of national concern. We employed the fourfold strategies of Target, Message, Action and Tactic to design operations targeting issues such as police brutality and employment rights for refugees.
This was possibly my favorite part of the camp. We were asked to provide critical analysis of cases involving the Sedition Act 1948, the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, and Section 504 of the Penal Code. Case facts involved book bans, excessive fines and imprisonment, and stifling of academic criticism while grounds of judgment tended to focus on the principles of judicial review and constitutional rights enshrined in Article 10.
On the last night of SLC, we were given a moot problem based on the facts of two cases similarly revolving around Article 10 issues of freedom of speech, assembly and association. Given less than six hours to file written submissions, many were awake into the early hours of morning. The intensity of moot court mirrored that of real-life litigation. Despite my nerves, the judges (read: trainers) were extremely encouraging, and we each received valuable feedback on our oral and written submissions.
So Fahmi Reza made a guest appearance at SLC 2018, much to the excitement of some participants. The clown-cartoonist-turned-activist told of his raw encounters with the police following demonstrations and his fight for justice in the courts.
He said many things that evening but one statement stayed with me: “This is why we need lawyers like you guys, you know? So that activists like me can take to the streets knowing that you all have our backs. We’re all in this together.”
Personally, his insight made real the struggles of fighting for human rights in Malaysia. It also highlighted the tangible impact of public interest litigation and advocacy in pushing forward the rights movement in Malaysia. I left his session not only with a multitude of ‘Kita Semua Penghasut’ stickers, but with renewed excitement for the possibility of change in Malaysia.
In Malaysia Baharu’s newfound climate of hope, I cling on to idealism and optimism, fighting off disillusionment and pessimism while trying to balance that with a realistic and pragmatic view of progress that can feasibly be made. When I find myself being pulled towards complacency and apathy, lured by promises of a stable, high-paying job marred only by the possibility of perpetual boredom, I hope to remember. I hope to remember the fleeting emotions captured in moments at SLC 2018 – solidarity in a community which dreams of a better Malaysia, the keen satisfaction of making a point and making it well, the feeling that I could be a part of something bigger than myself in upholding the cause of justice without fear or favor.