KUALA LUMPUR (July 25, 2008): The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) has until April next year to buck up or lose its standing with the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions (ICC).A report prepared in April this year by the ICC’s Sub-Committee on Accreditation recommended that the commission be demoted from an “A” status to a “B” status, based on the findings of the sub-committee.
The findings were:
> A lack of independence and transparency in the appointment and dismissal of commissioners as governed by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 (Act 597),
> the short two-year term of office for appointed commissioners, and
> a lack of proper representation of different aspects of society.
Speaking at a press conference called by a panel representing 44 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil societies, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) documentation and monitoring coordinator John Liu said the downgrading to a “B” status would be a serious blow for the Commission.
“This means that Suhakam will lose its right to participate in the regular sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
“It will also be stripped of its full membership in the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) and Suhakam would be relegated to become a candidate or associate member, which does not have voting rights in the APF’s decision-making body, the Forum Council,” said Liu.
He called on the government to heed the recommendations by the ICC or face international embarrassment
“Should the government ignore these recommendations, Suhakam’s status would be downgraded by the ICC. This would reflect poorly on Malaysia’s human rights record at the international level for lacking in political will to promote and protect human rights,” said Liu.
“It will make Malaysia’s pledge to the United Nations in 2006 that it ‘will continue to take proactive and innovative measures to further promote and protect human rights’ a mockery,” he said.
He said it is possible for Suhakam to retain its “A” status, provided it can show in writing that it “continues to comply with the Paris Principles,” a set of guideline for the competence and responsibilities of NHRIs.
Empower member Honey Tan “strongly urged” the Government to “take immediate measures” such as:
> for Suhakam to report directly to Parliament, and not to the Prime Minister’s department,
> the establishment of an independent Search Committee to appoint commissioners, instead of the Prime Minister,
> setting clear criteria for Suhakam commissioners, who are credible, independent and competent in the field of human rights,
> a longer, five-year tenure for commissioners, with no reappointments
> that Suhakam be more active in holding inquiries,
> wider powers for Suhakam, and a wider definition of human rights as defined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and
> that Suhakam’s reports be tabled and debated in Parliament and recommendations implemented.
“The job of the Search Committee is to actually find suitable candidates, and the people who should comprise the committee. We are recommending that it should include MPs, civil society members, trade union members and concerned social and professional groups,” said Tan.
She said the criteria for the appointment of commissioners was in need of reform.
“There has to be clear criteria as to who actually can be a commissioner, and if one looks at Section 5 of the relevant Act, it is unclear as to the criteria. One criteria is that a candidate must be a prominent personality, and this has no meaning,” said Tan, pointing out that “a pop star is also a prominent personality.”
Tan also called for the Malaysian definition of human rights to be widened.
“Human rights in Malaysia is defined by Part 2 of our Federal Constitution, which governs fundamental liberties. It has only 9 articles and lists down 14 rights. The most basic of human rights documents, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has 30 articles, which is more than three times what is in here (the Federal Constitution.
“So we urge the government to enlarge its definition of human rights and to use the existing UN treaties and guidelines,” said Tan, who urged the government to ratify more human rights treaties.
Amnesty International Malaysia campaign coordinator K.Shah also urged the government to practice what it preaches and improve Suhakam
“Malaysia, as a leading country in Asean which talks about human rights in Burma and other countries, should live up to and create a strong and significant human rights institution in Malaysia by reforming the law and reforming Suhakam,” he said.