Reproduced below is a 2008 interview of LoyarBurokker Edmund Bon by Intan Maizura Ahmad Kamal for NST’s Sunday People column. In this interview, Edmund speaks about what makes him tick as he delves into what exactly is it that he does.

LB: There is, Loyarburokker Edmund Bon looking dapper in a grey shirt.
LB: There he is, LoyarBurokker Edmund Bon looking dapper in a grey shirt.

Bon-ded to Human Rights

27 April 2008

With so many pressing causes to fight for, the last thing Edmund Bon Tai Soon wants is to bring the spotlight to himself, writes INTAN MAIZURA AHMAD KAMAL

Looking dapper in a casual grey shirt worn over a stylish pair of Dockers pants, Human Rights lawyer, crusader and the youngest legal counsel on the Bar Council of Malaysia is feeling anything but comfortable.

Not that Edmund Bon Tai Soon has anything against talking to journalists – it’s just that he’s not into talking about HIMSELF to journalists. But chat about his work and watch him come alive.

The 34-year-old is also chairperson on the Human Rights committee and legal counsel for both Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) and Human Rights Society (Hakam).

What does he do exactly?

His eyes light up. “From the lawyers’ perspective, we look at issues that affect the administration of justice and rule of law. Then we examine where the violation is, how best to handle it and how we can improve it. We’re highly independent and non-partisan. We’re pro-justice, and pro-rights. We’re not pro-opposition nor are we anti-government.”

He continues: “Much of that work comes under the Human Rights committee of the Bar Council, which does a lot of law reform and advocacy works. For example, we have cases regarding urban settlers and we also act for refugees from Burma, Indonesia, Aceh and Thailand, vulnerable groups affected by these violations. We try and educate the public and the government on how to treat them more humanely in accordance to the International Human Rights Conventions.”

“We fight for gender equality too. We try to change laws that are gender biased and we work with NGOs to try and have law reforms. On a different scale, we create awareness and train lawyers and the public on their rights and how things can be improved.”

Looking decidedly more relaxed, Edmund, whose father worked with a multinational company and whose mother is a music teacher, reveals that his work is very challenging.

“Sometimes the administration, the government, doesn’t want to listen to us. We try, firstly, to sit down with them and have a dialogue and mediation before handing them our memorandum. Everything’s very docile and peaceful but we’re very clear on what we want and on what the ways should be when we move forward. But doors are always shut.”

However, he concedes that at least in Malaysia, people like him are still able to do their work quite freely, compared with those in countries like Burma. It can still get quite scary though.

“You have the authorities tracking you and following you. Put on a lighter note, we’re happy that we have free bodyguards!” he says, chuckling.

The environment he works in, confides the Gemini, is akin to a pressure cooker. There are the authorities to deal with “…and they’re always very resistant.”

“Then there are the victims or the survivors of rights violations. The third is the judiciary if you take the case to court. This kind of environment teaches you a lot about people relations and helps you mature very quickly.”

He adds: “It’s like being on a roller coaster. Sometimes we win but most of the time we lose, because the law is skewed against the victims. You just keep going…”

Bon’s really encouraged by developments made on the Asean Human Rights front. “Last year, member States finally agreed to set up the Asean Human Rights mechanism which provides protection to victims of human rights violation, albeit in a diluted form. This was something we never envisaged although we fought for it for so long. These are the things that keep you going. You know real change can come if there are enough mature people and enlightened leaders to support the initiative.”

Bon finds it most rewarding to see changes taking place. That, and when the man-in-the-street pats him on the back and says a simple “thank you.”

To relax, Bon enjoys playing futsal, tennis, travelling and reading heavy-duty human rights and legal books when he has the time.

Actually, he got into his present line quite by accident. When he returned from the UK in 1997, it was the height of the Reformasi protests.

“There were demonstrations and running battles between the police and the people right outside our office,” he recalls. “The Bar took a very pro-active role. The Legal Aid centre defended a lot of those charged with having illegal gatherings. As young members of the Bar we were roped in to help out.”

Many things have changed since then, he says. “What’s really interesting is that we’re seeing many younger lawyers with enthusiasm, energy, activism and new ideas coming in. I saw this when I was chairing the National Young Lawyers committee for two years and it’s really exciting times. The committee now comprises young members who don’t all have human rights work experience but are willing to dedicate their time, life, energy to the cause.”

Concluding emphatically, he adds: “It’s very consistent with Vision 2020. We want to be a developed society in 2020 – liberal, caring and tolerant and with these younger lawyers, we’ll be fast tracking there.”

LB: This interview as it originally appeared in NST’s Sunday People can be viewed here.

4 replies on “Bon-ded to Human Rights”

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