Malaysian and PH civil society groups: declare humanitarian ceasefire now

DAVAO CITY  (MindaNews/08 March) —  Civil society organizations in  Malaysia  and the Philippines are urging Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak Najib, President Benigno Aquino and Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III  to “immediately declare a humanitarian ceasefire”  to ensure the safety  of women, children, elderly and other vulnerable persons in the conflict-affected areas in Sabah, Malaysia.

In the Joint Statement of Malaysian-Philippine CSOs titled “Standoff in Lahad Datu: Engage in Dialogue Now with all stakeholders to resolve the crisis peacefully,” the signatories  from at least 100 CSOs in the Philippines, Malaysia and other countries, also asked for  “safe zones” where humanitarian organizations “can install facilities to be accessed by those who are injured and require immediate medical care.”

“Time is of the essence.  The world is looking at you, now,” the signatories led by Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram), the  Davao City-based Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID) and the Mindanao PeaceWeavers (MPW).

Malaysian authorities announced Thursday that 32 more followers of Kiram were killed. Tan Sri Ismail Omar, Inspector-General of Police  was reported in Malaysian newspapers as saying the  “the death toll among the Sulu intruders stands at 52.”

Eight policemen have been killed since violence broke out on Friday, bringing the death toll to 60 as of  Thursday evening.

The state-owned news agency, Bernama, reported that security forces have detained 79 persons believed to be members of Kiram’s group.

Civil society’s call came on the same day the Sultan declared a unilateral ceasefire which Malaysia rejected. Malaysia instead asked the Sultan’s followers in Lahad Datu, to surrender unconditionally.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday morning urged an end to violence in Sabah and encouraged dialogue “among all the parties for a peaceful resolution of the situation.’

He also expressed concern about the “impact this situation may have on the civilian population, including migrants in the region” and urged all parties to facilitate delivery of humanitarian assistance and “act in full respect of international human rights norms and standards.”

Abraham Idjirani, the Sultan’s spokesperson told a press conference Thursday afternoon that they would abide by their unilateral ceasefire despite Malaysia’s rejection.

The Sultan’s brother, Rajah Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, sailed with some 200 followers to  Lahad Datu on the second week of  February and holed up there to assert the Sultanate’s claim over Sabah, until violence broke out on March 1. Malaysian authorities blamed Kiram’s group for attacking their policemen while Kiram’s group said the Malaysians attacked them first.

Respect, protect human rights

The Joint Statement urged the leaders to take immediate steps to “end the use of violence and to engage in dialogue with all stakeholders to resolve the crisis peacefully;” ensure respect and protection of  human rights especially of civilians from Lahad Datu, Semporna and nearby villages and to “cease and desist from using excessive force and armed violence.”

The statement also urged the leaders to ensure the safety of journalists “to ensure fair reporting and dissemination of information to the general public” and to initiate an “independent and impartial investigation into the killings that has taken place and make the findings of the investigation public.”

The statement expressed concern for the “lack of real-time information” on the situation in Lahad Datu, noting that information received  through the Malaysian news media “lacked transparency and created unnecessary rumors and assumptions about the situation.”

“The people have the right to get the information on ongoing issues in Sabah,”  the statement read.

Humanitarian reasons

In Quezon City, the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID)  echoed the Philippine government’s call for Malaysia to “observe maximum tolerance” in the context of “Islamic Brotherhood and ASEAN unity” and appealed, “as one Ummah, to the Muslim countries within the ASEAN to help resolve the situation in Sabah peacefully to avert further loss of live.”

PCID  supported the UN Secretary-General’s  call for an end to violence and urged Malaysia to “cease its excessive use of force against a group of Filipinos, inadequately armed and clearly outnumbered.”

“We pray that leaders, Filipino and Malaysian, will prioritize the lives of citizens and the peace and security of both our countries,” the PCID statement signed by its president, Amina Rasul, a Tausug like the Kirams, said.

PCID also called for independent parties to enforce the ceasefire, “such as the UN Peacekeeping Forces” to maintain order in the conflict areas.

It urged Malaysia to allow Red Crescent access to the conflict areas to provide “innocent victims and casualties medical assistance and humanitarian aid.”

Describing the situation as “highly volatile,” it called for “tempered and experienced leaders, knowledgeable about the underlying issues, to diffuse the tensions.”

It called on the Aquino administration to create a Crisis Committee to work on a peaceful and just resolution of the present crisis and to create a Sabah Committee, under the Office of the President, to address the Philippine claim to Sabah. It suggested that the Sultanate be represented in these bodies.

It also  called on the Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives to pass a resolution “expressing the sense of both chambers on the Lahad Datu crisis and to authorize the executive branch to pursue the Sabah claim peacefully and legally, and to ensure the protection of Filipinos residing in Sabah.”

It asked the Aquino administration to “actively explore options to resolve the Philippines’ claim to Sabah,” adding that a “just and peaceful resolution of the claim of the Sulu Sultanate, erstwhile ceded to the Philippine Government, will remove a thorny issue that has caused much uncertainty between Malaysia and the Philippines.”

It urged the Philippine Government to protect the proprietary rights of Sultan Jamalul Alam’s heirs, identified in the 1939 ruling of Chief Justice C.F.C. Macaskie of the High Court of the North Borneo. It said that while all the principal heirs have died, the rights of their successors-in-interest, most of whom are Filipino citizens, must be protected by the Philippine Government.

PCID also called on “all the members of the Royalty and Nobility of the Sulu Sultanate to unite behind the search for a peaceful resolution of the crisis.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)