Malaysia: Rome Statute won’t cut Syariah court powers, says ICC lawyer

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 7 — Malaysia’s Syariah courts will not see their powers lessen if Putrajaya ratifies international human rights conventions, including the Rome Statute, a lawyer representing the International Criminal Court (ICC) said today in the wake of tensions between Islamic law proponents and civil law activists.

According to Datuk Sivananthan Nithyanantham, the ICC only deals with major international crimes and as such does not supersede the power of the Islamic courts, which largely rules on family disputes.

“In the context of clashes between the legal obligations of ICC signatories and the Islamic syariah law… The ICC as you know only covers major crimes such as genocides, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes of agression,” Sivananthan said in a public forum on the impact of ratifying international treaties, namely the ICC, organised by the Malaysian Bar.

“The crimes must be widespread, systemic, concern the international community… The ICC only deals with the major players, so to speak.”

Malaysia is among the 41 countries out of 193 United Nations (UN) members that have yet to sign nor accede to the Rome Statute, a treaty introduced by the ICC on July 17, 1998 and enforced four years later, which prosecutes four main international crimes in situations where states that are members of the United Nations – or authorised by its Security Council – are unable or unwilling to do so.

Malaysia was recommended to ratify the treaty last month during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the UN Human Rights Council.

Malaysia adopts a dual-track legal system where only Muslims are bound to both civil, and Islamic law which is governed by respective states instead of the federal government.

Syariah law and punishments are generally confined to Muslims, but can extend to non-Muslims if they are involved in aiding or abetting an offence committed by a Muslim.

But several Islamic activist groups have been lobbying Putrajaya to not accede to certain international conventions and treaties despite proposals made by the Coalition of Malaysian Non-Government Organisations (Comango) in the UPR process.

The Muslims NGOs, which have banded together under the MuslimUPRo label, have alleged that Syariah law and its punishments will be abolished if Putrajaya ratifies such agreements.