The International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions (ICC)’s recent notice to SUHAKAM for its failure to comply with the Paris Principles and the consequent possibility of it being downgraded indicates the ICC’s grave concern with regard to the Malaysian government’s management of SUHAKAM. SUHAKAM has been confined by the provisions of the Act and has disappointingly fallen short in its mission to promote and protect human rights.
From 21 to 23 April 2008, the ICC Sub-Committee on Accreditation carried out its periodic re-accreditation of national human rights institutions (NHRIs) based on the Paris Principles. The Paris Principles are the international standards for an independent and effective NHRI. In its review of SUHAKAM’s accreditation, the ICC Sub-Committee on Accreditation gave notice to SUHAKAM to “provide, in writing, within one year […], the documentary evidence deemed necessary to establish its continued conformity with the Paris Principles”, failing which, SUHAKAM would be downgraded from its current “A” status to “B”.
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 NHRIs (APF) and will be relegated to a candidate or associate member, which does not have voting rights in the APF’s decision-making body, the Forum Council.
The recommendations given to SUHAKAM by the ICC Sub-Committee on Accreditation reaffirms the concerns regarding SUHAKAM’s independence and effectiveness which have been articulated by various human rights NGOs in the country since the Commission’s establishment. The key recommendations and observations made by the ICC Sub-Committee on Accreditation in relation to SUHAKAM were:
1. The independence of the Commission needs to be strengthened by the provision of clear and transparent appointment and dismissal process in the founding legal documents, more in line with the Paris Principles.
2. With regard to the appointment, the Sub-Committee notes the short term of office of the members of the commission (two years).
3. The importance of ensuring the representation of different segments of society and their involvement in suggesting or recommending candidates to the governing body of the Commission.
4. The importance to engage with the international human rights system, in particular the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms (Special Procedures Mandate Holders) and the United Nations Human Rights Treaty Bodies.
Most of the recommendations are related to the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 (Act 597) under which SUHAKAM was established. These recommendations serve as a timely reminder that the government should reflect on the objectives of SUHAKAM’s establishment. If there is a perception that SUHAKAM was set up merely for the purpose of window-dressing the government’s poor human rights record, then its lack of independence must surely underscore that perception. The government should therefore act immediately to make the Commission independent and effective by implementing the measures proposed below.
Should the government ignore these recommendations, SUHAKAM’s status would be downgraded by the ICC. This will reflect poorly on Malaysia’s human rights record at the international level for lacking in political will to promote and protect human rights. 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. The credibility and the stature of Malaysia as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council will suffer if the government does not act immediately on the ICC Sub-Committee on Accreditation’s recommendations.
We therefore strongly urge the government to be accountable and to take immediate measures, especially by amending Act 597, to ensure:
1. SUHAKAM’s structural autonomy from the government
SUHAKAM should report to the Parliament, and not to the Prime Minister’s Department.
2. transparency in the selection of SUHAKAM Commissioners
Establish an independent Search Committee. This should comprise Members of Parliament from all parties, civil society groups, trade unions, concerned social and professional groups. The selection powers should not be left solely with the Prime Minister. The selection process should be transparent and fair, and with full consultation with civil society.
3. the setting of clear criteria for SUHAKAM Commissioners
Commissioners who are selected should be credible, independent and competent in the field of human rights. They should serve full time, and focus exclusively on human rights work.
4. longer tenure of Commissioners
The tenure of commissioners should be extended to five years and re-appointments should be dispensed with immediately so as to ensure autonomy.
5. wider powers and mandate to be accorded to SUHAKAM to promote and protect human rights in Malaysia
The definition of “human rights” in Section 2 of Act 597 should be amended. SUHAKAM’s jurisdiction should be widened to cover rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual as embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights laws and standards.
SUHAKAM’s powers under Section 12(2) of Act 597 should be clarified. This section is frustrating SUHAKAM’s work because when a human rights violation is taken to court, SUHAKAM has thus far refused to hold public inquiries.
6. that SUHAKAM’s reports are debated in Parliament, and its recommendations implemented
SUHAKAM’s recommendations to the government should be implemented immediately. This includes those on the ratification of international human rights treaties. SUHAKAM’s reports should be tabled and debated in the Parliament.
This statement is endorsed by:
2. Aliran Kesedaran Negara (Aliran)
3. Amnesty International, Malaysia
4. All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
5. Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)
6. Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC)
7. Child Development Initiative
8. Civil Rights Committee of the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall
9. Community Development Centre (CDC)
10. Education and Research Association for Consumers Malaysia (ERA Consumer)
11. Gerakan Mansuhkan ISA (GMI)
12. Group of Concerned Citizens
13. Human Rights Committee, Bar Council Malaysia
14. Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas (JERIT)
15. Jamaah Islah Malaysia (JIM)
16. Labour Resource Centre (LRC)
17. LLG Cultural Development Centre (LLG)
18. Malaysia Youth and Students Democratic Movement (DEMA)
19. Monitoring Sustainability of Globalization (MSN)
20. National Human Rights Society (HAKAM)
21. Network of Solidarity Collective (NOSC)
22. Panggau, Sarawak
23. Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM)
24. Penang Watch
25. Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower)
26. Persatuan Masyarakat Selangor dan Kuala Lumpur (PERMAS)
27. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
28. Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific (PAN-AP)
29. Pusat Khidmat Pekerja Tanjung (PKPT)
30. Pusat Komunikasi Masyarakat (KOMAS)
31. PT Foundation
32. Research for Social Advancement (REFSA)
33. Save Ourselves (SOS)
34. Semparuthi Iyakkam
35. Sisters in Islam (SIS)
36. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
39. Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
40. Worker’s Organisation Malaysia
41. Writers’ Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI)
42. Yayasan Amal, Johor
43. Youth for Change (Y4C)
44. Youth Section of the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall