Where Are The Suhakam Commissioners

Suhakam, our national human rights statutory body, is currently without a chairperson and commissioners
The previous chairperson, Razali Ismail (photo, below), resigned two weeks before the end of his term on April 27, 2019. Meanwhile, the last batch of commissioners ended their respective terms at the end of April 2019. The government has not re-appointed them, or appointed a new batch of commissioners
The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) is a statutory body created by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 (Act 597)
The members of the commission shall be appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on the recommendation of the prime minister who shall, before tendering his advice, consult a committee set up by the Act. The commissioners, including the chairperson, serve for a term of three years, and are eligible for reappointment, once, for another period of three years
The members of the commission shall be appointed from among men and women of various religious, political and racial backgrounds who have knowledge of, or practical experience in, human rights matters
Out of the eight members who ended their terms in April 2019, six are eligible for reappointment, although the outgoing chairperson has stated that he does not want to serve a second term
According to the Act, the main objective of Suhakam is to protect and promote human rights in Malaysia. In achieving this, the functions of the body include promoting awareness and education of human rights, assisting and advising the government in formulating legislation, administrative directives and procedures on human rights, advising the government on treaties and instruments on human rights, and inquiring into complaints regarding infringements of human rights
The Act specifically states that regard shall be given to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (UDHR), as long as the UDHR is not inconsistent with the Federal Constitution
There has been criticism that Suhakam is a ‘’toothless tiger”. According to these criticisms, the body cannot prosecute or take action when it comes to human rights violations. It can only advise and recommend to the government, and the government has no obligation to even consider the views of Suhakam
As such, the effectiveness of the body is curtailed by the Act itself
However, despite its limitations, Suhakam does have one useful tool at its disposal; the statutory mandate to inquire into complaints of human rights violations
Suhakam has held inquiries on major public rallies such as Bersih 2.0 and Bersih 3.0, land rights of indigenous people and lately, on the disappearances of Pastor Raymond Koh (above, left), activist Amri Che Mat (above, right) and others. These inquiries may not translate into concrete actions by the government, but they do bring to light human rights violations in the country
Suhakam has also been tasked to compile an annual report on its activities. This report usually includes Suhakam’s actions in relation to human rights issues in Malaysia, and as such can be relied upon as a report on the state of human rights in the country. The report must be tabled in Parliament, and although that has been done previously, Parliament had not allocated time to debate the said report
Many human rights advocates in Malaysia hope that with the new government, the latest Suhakam report will finally be debated in Parliament, fulfilling Promise 24 of the Pakatan Harapan manifesto. The 2018 report was tabled at the last Parliamentary sitting, but has not yet been debated
It is, therefore, perplexing that we have a human rights body without members for nearly two months. The government has not provided any explanation as to why these positions have been vacant for so long.We do not have the benefit of Suhakam’s views in relation to the tragic deaths in the Orang Asli community in Kuala Koh, Kelantan. Similarly, there have been many other human rights issues over the past few weeks which Suhakam should rightly look into, but could not, because of the vacancies
The government has promised to uphold human rights. In this regard, Suhakam plays a very important role as the state body on human rights. It is therefore important for Suhakam to be up and running as soon as possible, to continue to carry out its statutory mandate
SYAHREDZAN JOHAN is a civil liberties lawyer and political secretary to Iskandar Puteri Member of Parliament Lim Kit Siang. - Mkini

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