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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

It's not about rights or peace

There are many reasons why crimes happen, but let us not get befuddled by the view that we have to sacrifice our rights in order to live in peace.

Murder victims: Police personnel bringing out the bodies of the five men who were gunned down at an apartment in Sungai Nibong.

It is quite nice to hear the Prime Minister declare that any future development in criminal laws will not infringe upon human rights. Well, let’s hope that is true.

The thing is, by this statement there is an unsaid implication that human rights and crime are something that are somehow related. One retiree for example said that the price for more freedom is higher crime.

I wondered if this is true. After all, in our country, we respect the old, so perhaps there is some wisdom in this octogenarian’s statement.

So, I decided to poke around the information superhighway (Hah! Bet you haven’t hear that term for a while), and I chanced upon a study done by the United Nations office on drugs and crime in 2012. The study was a comprehensive survey of homicides around the world.

If greater freedom equates with greater crime (here the crime in question is murder), then we should see countries with the greatest civil liberties leading the pack. Crickey, a place like Denmark should, theoretically, be littered with dead bodies everywhere. You shouldn’t be able to walk to your corner shop to buy your poached cod or whatever is eaten in those parts, without having to step over cadavers riddled with bullet holes.

After all, they have ratified about thirty human rights treaties (including one against the death penalty); their criminals must be running around high on Carlsberg and whacking every Thor, Dag and Hagen that they come across.

But, this is not the case. They have one of the lowest murder rates in the world. 0.9 per every 100,000 people. To give that some sense of perspective, our murder rate is 2.3 per every 100,000 people. In fact, looking at the study, we see that there is simply no correlation between civil liberties and crime. The regions with the highest homicide rate tend to be those which are desperately poor.

Now this is of course a cursory amble of the Internet on my part and not some serious academic study, but it seems to me that it is very clear that to equate more human rights to more crime is simply not supported by the facts.

The reason I raise this is that we are often faced with the argument that it is one or the other. Rights or peace. This is simply not the case.

In the light of the recent spate of high profile and horrific crimes that we have faced and the police force’s “war” on gangsters, let us not get befuddled by the view that we have to sacrifice our rights in order to live in peace.

There are a myriad of reasons why crimes happen and these must be examined and studied so that any “war” on crime has to be fought on the correct “battlefield”.

For example, poverty and the vast disparity of wealth between the haves and the have not’s seem to be one of the things that the world’s most murder ridden nations have in common.

It sure as heck is not their observance of human rights principles.

So, yes, let us make all efforts to ensure that this country of ours has the least crime possible, but leave our rights (what little of them we have) well enough alone.

 Brave New World by AZMI SHAROM
Azmi Sharom ( is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

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