More than 40 Malaysian NGOs are boycotting Suhakam’s Human Rights Day event tomorrow because of their dissatisfaction with the national human rights commission’s performance and the slow pace of reform. Instead, they have announced a conditional engagement with specific a time-frame for substantial reforms.
On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) tomorrow (9 September 2009), we, the undersigned Malaysian non-governmental organisations, announce that we will boycott the event organised by Suhakam to commemorate its 10th year of existence.
Our boycott of Suhakam’s event on 9 September 2009 is to register our strongest protest and disapproval towards:
1. The failure of SUHAKAM to proactively protect and promote human rights
The lack of proactive efforts to protect human rights can be seen in its seemingly selective nature of conducting public inquiries. In several instances, Suhakam has failed to probe into serious cases of human rights violations. For example, in 2008, in response to a fire incident at the Lenggeng Immigration Detention Centre, a Commissioner made a strong statement calling it “one of the worst incidents that have taken place in Malaysia”. However, despite such strong statements Suhakam decided to reject civil society’s call for a public inquiry to be held.
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When numerous individuals were arrested by the police for exercising their right to assemble on various occasions this year, none of the Suhakam Commissioners were present at police stations or lockups to try and secure the releases of those detained or at least to ensure their wellbeing in detention. The Commission also refused to send an official monitoring team to the anti-ISA rally on 1 August 2009 despite requests from civil society to do so, with the reason that the rally was held without a police permit and therefore “illegal”. This is contrary to the positions that the Commission has taken in numerous of its annual reports and reports of public inquiries.
We are also seriously concerned about the performance of SUHAKAM Chairman Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman. In 2008, the Chairman only made one press statement out of the 23 released by Suhakam throughout the year. The only press statement released by the Chairman was to clarify that a press statement released by three Commissioners on the previous day was not an official statement of Suhakam. The press statement on the previous day condemned the ban of the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) by the government and called for the government to uphold freedom of association. With only one press statement released throughout the entire year – and even that was to distance Suhakam from a human rights-based position – the credibility and suitability of Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman as a public defender of human rights can thus be seriously questioned.
2. The failure of the government to make Suhakam a truly independent and effective institution
Numerous memoranda and proposals, calling for Suhakam to be made more independent and effective, have been submitted to the government since 1999. However, these proposals to improve Suhakam’s independence and effectiveness have thus far been met with a lack of commitment by the government.
Suhakam now faces a possible downgrading by the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions (ICC) in November 2009. The recent amendments in March and July 2009 to the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 are only minor and superficial and do not fully address all the concerns raised by the ICC in its April 2008 and March 2009 reviews of Suhakam.
3. The failure of the government to implement most of Suhakam’s substantial recommendations
Most of Suhakam’s substantial recommendations to the government, inter alia – to abolish all detention-without-trial laws; to ratify of all remaining core international human rights treaties; and to uphold the fundamental and constitutionally-enshrined freedoms of speech, assembly and association – have been ignored by the government. None of the reports of Suhakam – be they annual reports, thematic reports, or reports of public inquiries – has been debated in Parliament.
“Malaysian Human Rights Day” – Is there cause to celebrate?
Besides these failures, we also reject the recognition of 9 September as a celebration of what Suhakam terms as the “Malaysian Human Rights Day”, and instead only recognise 10 December as the international human rights day, which has long been accepted and established universally as the day to celebrate human rights. We strongly stress the universality of human rights and therefore caution that an uncritical acceptance of 9 September as Malaysia’s very own human rights day amounts to what seems to be an adulterated human rights culture which distinguishes “human rights ala Malaysia” from “universal human rights”.
Our refusal to recognise 9 September as the human rights day is further strengthened by the fact that this date marks the establishment of Suhakam – an institution which has thus far failed on many counts in carrying out its mandate to promote and protect human rights. The failures of Suhakam thus far are not a cause for a celebration or marker of any kind.
However, notwithstanding our boycott of Suhakam’s Human Rights Day event on 9 September 2009, we will continue to engage with Suhakam conditionally, with a specific timeframe for both the government and Suhakam to make necessary improvements and reforms.
Firstly, we urge the Commission to be more proactive and bold in its work. The following should be done by the current set of Commissioners before their terms expire in April 2010:
- Intensify public campaigns, especially on issues where recommendations have been ignored by the government.
- Provide an action plan with specific timeframes for the government to implement all pending recommendations and release progress reports on the status of implementation publicly and regularly.
- Play an intermediary role between civil society and relevant ministries or government departments by holding regular constructive meetings, including for the implementation of Suhakam’s recommendations as well as reforms on Suhakam.
- Conduct regular monitoring on the ground, particularly in cases where there are imminent threats of human rights violations.
- Be more prompt, vocal and visible in responding to cases of human rights violations.
Secondly, the government should before the ICC’s final decision on Suhakam’s status in November 2009 further amend the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999:
- to provide Suhakam with wider powers and mandate, which include all rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights laws;
- to ensure more transparency in the selection process of Commissioners, with full consultation with civil society at all stages of the appointment process;
- to ensure that all Commissioners are full-time;
- to clarify Suhakam’s powers to prevent Section 12(2) from undermining its work by the simple means of taking matters to court, and to allow Suhakam the discretion to conduct an inquiry after disposal of the matter in court;
- to give powers to Suhakam to conduct spot checks on places of detention, without prior notice to authorities of places of detention;
- to ensure that Suhakam reports directly to Parliament, rather than being placed directly under the Prime Minister’s Department; and
- to compel Suhakam’s reports to be officially tabled and debated in Parliament.
Thirdly, the government should by April 2010 implement or provide a concrete timeframe and plan of action for the implementations of all recommendations made by Suhakam, including:
- to ratify all remaining core international human rights treaties and withdraw reservations on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC);
- to abolish all detention-without-trial laws;
- to uphold Constitutional rights to freedom of speech, assembly and association, by repealing or amending legislations or provisions in legislations which curb these rights; and
- to adopt and implement a National Human Rights Action Plan as proposed by Suhakam.
Failing to make these improvements within the proposed timeframes, we would seriously consider a more permanent boycott of Suhakam. Such drastic actions are being considered because of the urgent need for reforms on Suhakam and the previous failures of both the government and Suhakam to do so.
However, we welcome dialogues and collaborations with both the government and Suhakam if these demands for improvements are taken seriously. We are open to assisting both the government and Suhakam in drawing up a concrete plan of action for the implementation of these proposals.
1. Aliran Kesedaran Negara (ALIRAN)
2. All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
3. Amnesty International Malaysia
4. Cakap Rakyat Group
5. Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)
6. Centre for Policy Initiatives (CPI)
7. Child Development Initiative
8. Civil Society Committee of LLG Cultural Development Centre (LLG-CSC)
9. Civil Society Initiative for Parliamentary Reforms (CSI-Parliament)
10. Civil Rights Committee (CRC) of the Kuala Lumpur & Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH)
11. Education and Research Association for Consumers Malaysia (ERA Consumer Malaysia)
12. Federation of Malaysian Consumers Association (FOMCA)
13. Gabungan Bertindak Mahasiswa Utara (GBMU)
14. Gerakan Mansuhkan ISA (GMI)
15. Group of Concerned Citizens (GCC)
16. Health Equity Initiative (HEI)
17. Kumpulan Aktivis Mahasiswa Independen Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (KAMI UKM)
18. Malaysia Youth and Students Democratic Movement (DEMA)
19. Malaysian Dravidian Association
20. Malaysian Indian Development Association Selangor
21. Malaysian Tamil Youth Bell Club
22. Malaysian Voters Union (MALVU)
23. National Human Rights Society (HAKAM)
24. National Institute for Electoral Integrity (NIEI)
25. Penang Watch
26. Persatuan Bahasa Cina Unversiti Malaya (PBCUM)
27. Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower)
28. Persatuan Masyarakat Selangor & Wilayah Persekutuan (PERMAS)
29. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
30. Physicians for Peace and Social Responsibility
31. Pusat Komuniti Masyarakat (KOMAS)
32. Research for Social Advancement (REFSA)
33. Save Ourselves (SOS) Penang
34. Semparuthi Iyakkam
35. Sisters in Islam (SIS)
36. Southeast Asian Centre for e-Media (Seacem)
37. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
39. Women Institute for Research Development and Advancement (WIRDA)
40. Writers’ Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI)
41. Youth for Change (Y4C)
42. Youth Section of the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall