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United Nations Special Rapporteur and former Malaysian Bar council chairman, Dato Param Cumaraswamy, is facing defamation and slander writs for RM120m (about £30m) over a magazine article questioning the independence of the Malaysian judiciary.
The move has been condemned by the International Bar Association, which argues that Cumaraswamy is immune from legal action because his remarks were made in the course of his duty as Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers for the UN.
Cumaraswamy, chief executive partner in Malaysian firm Shook Lin & Bok, is being sued by two commercial companies and a Kuala Lumpur lawyer, Dato VK Lingam of VK Lingam & Co, over an article that appeared in the
November 1995 edition of International Commercial Litigation, a Euromoney publication.
Earlier this month the Malaysian High Court refused to strike out the case on the grounds of immunity and called on Cumaraswamy to file his defence.
Paulo Pinheiro, chair of a UN meeting on the issue, said: "Threatening the immunity of one expert constitutes an attack on the entire system of the United Nations special procedures and mechanisms."
IBA president Desmond Fernando PC said the organisation was extremely concerned by the Malaysian court's challenge to Cumaraswamy's UN immunity.
"In proceeding with this case, the Malaysian court is overriding the authority of the UN secretary-general," he said.
"We hope that states that are members of the United Nations will bring their domestic laws into conformity with their international obligations and that the Malaysian government in particular will make every possible effort to see that the immunity of Dato Param Cumaraswamy is observed."