We, the undersigned organisations, demand clarity on the supposed delay of the release of 2020 and 2021 annual reports of Malaysia’s national human rights institution, Suhakam.
The long-delayed publication of the 2020 and 2021 annual reports could derail the important work that Suhakam has conducted to be accredited as an A-status institution.
The government of Malaysia and Suhakam must offer transparency on the delayed publication of Suhakam’s annual reports, which has undermined its commitment to protect and promote human rights in accordance with international human rights standards.
According to Section 21(1) of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999, Suhakam shall submit an annual report to Parliament no later than the first meeting of Parliament of the following year.
Therefore, according to the letter of the law, the 2020 annual report should have been submitted to Parliament during the first parliamentary session of 2021 at the latest. Similarly, the 2021 annual report should have been tabled in the first parliamentary session of 2022, which ended on 24 March.
To date, civil society in Malaysia has not received any explanation regarding the release of the 2020 and 2021 annual reports. Equally, there have been no formal announcements and indication either by Suhakam or the government of Malaysia that both the 2020 and 2021 annual reports of Suhakam would be tabled during the next parliamentary session, which is scheduled for July 2022.
The failure of Suhakam to follow the provisions of its own founding act is worrying and raises concerns about how Suhakam is operating and fulfilling its mandate.
The government of Malaysia should also be held accountable for the delay of the release of the reports as it ought to be assisting Suhakam in offering time and space for the report to be tabled and subsequently debated in Parliament.
We also express concern that the present Perikatan Nasional-Barisan Nasional government of Malaysia has become more confrontational and unsupportive of Suhakam fulfilling its mandate as opposed to its predecessor, the Pakatan Harapan government.
In June 2021, the deputy minister for religious affairs criticised Suhakam in a post on its social media channels announcing a call for researchers to study the feasibility of recognising a third gender in Malaysia through legislation. The Islamic Development Department (Jakim) – another statutory body like Suhakam – also weighed in the criticism and demanded an explanation from Suhakam over the study.
The present government has also paid little attention to Suhakam’s role in advising and assisting in legislation pertaining to human rights issues. The policy to amend the Suhakam Act to strengthen Suhakam’s capacity to receive and investigate complaints and allow parliamentary oversight by the previous government has appeared to have slowed down under the present administration.
Recommendations made by Suhakam to ensure greater police accountability and good governance were also not realised in the government’s hastily tabled Independent Police Conduct Commission Bill.
In addition, civil society organisations have noted that Suhakam has been operating without commissioners for more than a month, which would have a serious impact in fulfilling its mandate to protect and defend human rights in Malaysia.
All these recent developments hint at an increasingly strained relationship between Suhakam and the government, which may serve as one of the reasons for the delay in the annual reports.
The 2018 annual report was a good example where the report was tabled in Parliament on 11 April 2019 and debated on 5 December 2019.
However, the practice was not continued the following year, as the 2019 annual report was belatedly tabled in November 2020. The law minister defended the government’s move to not table a parliamentary motion to debate the report by saying there was insufficient time in Parliament and that the content of the report is not a prioritised government affair.
The situation has only taken a turn for the worse since then: the 2021 and 2022 annual reports have not even been tabled in Parliament and therefore remain embargoed from the public.
The consistent publication of the annual report is one of the major key indicators of the performance of a national human rights institution in protecting and promoting human rights in the country. In June 2021 Suhakam was re-accredited as an A-Status institution by the sub-committee on accreditation of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, in which the sub-committee has recommended for Suhakam to advocate for greater transparency in the publication of its annual report and for legislation to require the annual reports to be publicly circulated, discussed and considered by the legislature.
We, therefore, urge the government of Malaysia and Suhakam to provide an explanation for the delay and to ensure that both the 2020 and 2021 annual reports are tabled and debated in Parliament as soon as possible.
List of signatories:
- Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia)
- Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram), Malaysia
- Korean House for International Solidarity, South Korea
- People’s Empowerment Foundation, Thailand
- Bytes for All, Pakistan
- Progressive Voice, Myanmar
- Law and Society Trust, Sri Lanka
- Odhikar, Bangladesh
- Potohar Organization for Development Advocacy, Pakistan
- All India Network of NGOs and Individuals working with National and State Human Rights Institutions (AiNNI), India
- Joint Action for NHRI and Optional Protocols in Japan (Janop)