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The proposal to set up an international war crimes tribunal in Kuala Lumpur is a non-starter. Former prime minister Tun Mahathir Mohamed was reported in the media to have said that 'the tribunal we set up can conduct a proper trial even if the accused are not present.

A respectable and totally impartial tribunal applying recognised laws will surely find its findings respected by the world'. As for the punishment, he said, 'those found guilty should be labeled 'war criminals'. 'People and NGOs for peace should make those 'war criminals' feel unwelcome wherever they go. They should be literally hounded', he said.

How could the tribunal apply internationally recognised principles of fair trial when the very persons accused do not appear before it? What evidence is going to be produced before the tribunal? Though Saddam Hussein appeared before the courts in Baghdad, the complaint many had was that he was not accorded a fair trial in accordance with internationally established standards.

The setting up of such a tribunal is not within the objectives and philosophy of the Perdana Leadership Foundation. Hence there certainly is no legal basis for such a tribunal. It may be seen as a NGO but NGOs, too, need to be registered under the Societies Act if they consists of more than seven persons unless they are registered under the Companies Act to give them a legal entity.

It was the same Mahathir when he was prime minister in 1990 who hounded the then formed Election Watch headed by Tun Mohamad Suffian. He wanted Bukit Aman to investigate as to whether the six-man group of the Election Watch contravened the Societies Act 1966. The six members, particularly Suffian, were vilified in the media by Mahathir to the extent Suffian resigned from his chairmanship of Standard Chartered Bank to avoid any embarrassment to the bank.

It was also reported in the media that a commission headed by Mahathir will first consider whether there is a prima facie case proved on the charges before they are referred to this war crimes tribunal. Bush, Blair, Howard and Arial Sharon were named as those to be charged. After all those virulent statements made against these four by Mahathir, is the commission headed by him expected to be impartial?

Again in 1990 it was he, Mahathir, who publicly criticised the six men of the Election Watch as 'critics of the government and therefore they would be biased and will not be neutral'. That the six were an 'extension of the opposition'. That the six wanted to ensure that 'no investments came into the country'.

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to try war crimes and genocide was agreed to by member states of the United Nations in 1998 during Mahathir's premiership. If he was genuinely concerned about justice to victims of war and bringing war criminals to trial, he should have got the Malaysian government to sign the statute then. He never bothered. The government to date is not a signatory to the statute.

If the government permits this group headed by Mahathir to proceed in the setting up of this tribunal, a dangerous precedent will be set. What if tomorrow an NGO in Malaysia decides to set up a similar tribunal to try Mahathir for human rights violations, assault of the independent judiciary in 1988, corruption, abuse of power, nepotism and cronyism during his 22 years as prime minister?

Since retiring from office as prime minister, Mahathir has been attempting to portray himself as a paragon of virtue. But Malaysians cannot be hoodwinked so easily to forget his past. Similarly the international community.

It is amazing how Mahathir could resort to such virulent verbal attacks particularly against Bush when he, Mahathir, during his premiership wanted so much for an audience with Bush at the White House to boost his image.

Eventually, he secured such an audience in May 2002. It was reported that a sum between US$900,000 and US$1.2 million was paid to secure that meeting. Mahathir did not deny that money was paid to secure that meeting. He was reported to have said 'it is a practice that if you want to meet their leader (Bush) you have to go through a lobbyist and the lobbyist has to be paid'.

This proposal for a war crimes tribunal in Kuala Lumpur is a farce and will make Malaysia and Malaysians a laughing stock internationally. It could deter respectable and credible foreign investors from investing in this country if our system permits such a circus to take place here.

The writer is former UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers.