Home Civil Society Voices Failure to defend universal human rights: Responsibility of entire Suhakam, not just...

Failure to defend universal human rights: Responsibility of entire Suhakam, not just chair

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The CSO Platform for Reform deplores the views of the current national human rights commission Suhakam chair, Rahmat Mohamad, that “human rights is human rights” when asked about concerns that adopting a Malaysian context may sideline vulnerable groups, particularly the LGBT+ community.

However, he also emphasised that the commission’s role is to uphold human rights in a local context (“acuan tempatan“), which in our view is both appalling and regressive.

It is due to this “acuan tempatan” that we are suffering on so many fronts; and it would not be surprising if Suhakam loses its Paris Principles compliance Grade A status and loses its international standing.

Trying to reframe human rights into an “acuan tempatan” should never be the task of Suhakam, as most politicians would love this narrow and dangerous definition for rights of people in Malaysia. The task of Suhakam is to upgrade the protection and promotion of human rights in Malaysia following the interpretation in Federal Constitution Part 2 on fundamental liberties and the universal standards of human rights accepted internationally.

On 3 July last year, the CSO Platform issued a statement citing fears that the reputation of Suhakam would be undermined by a team of weak commissioners, as a majority of the newly appointed human rights commissioners did not inspire confidence that they would be able to uphold human rights in the country.

A year on, unfortunately, our fears have come true. Recently, the chair has been urged by NGOs locally and internationally to go on garden leave pending an inquiry against him concerning allegations of power abuse and racism.

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The commission is designed as a collegial decision-making process. The chair does not have veto power and should never be allowed to do so. The failure of the other commissioners to speak up on the skewed position of the chair only can mean that this commission as a whole fails in its duty to defend human rights as a universal concept for all peoples in Malaysia. It is incumbent on each commissioner appointed by the Agong to state his or her position on the predicament created by the chair and enabled by a silent set of commissioners.

The CSO Platform for Reform, a coalition of more than 60 NGOs, reiterates our call for reform as follows:

  • A transparent and independent process of appointing the commissioners. We urge the Madani government to devise an independent process of appointing Suhakam commissioners, whose appointments are currently made through the Prime Minister’s Department
  • We call on Azalina Othman Said, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department for law and institutional reform, and the Legal Affairs Division of the Prime Minister’s Department to look into the reforms that have been proposed, as well as to look into the request of Suhakam staff to investigate their chairman
  • We call on the other commissioners to state their position on this issue; do they uphold human rights principles as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?
  • We call for honesty and reflection, that if the incumbent commissioners feel they are unable to adhere to and uphold the human rights principles as outlined in the Universal Declaration and in Suhakam’s mandate and insist on the “acuan tempatan” approach, then they should consider resigning their positions and
  • We would also like to call for more inclusive and effective consultations on institutional reform with civil society
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We would like to remind the current Suhakam commissioners that they have a duty to uphold human rights in line with the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Federal Constitution Part 2 on fundamental liberties as an independent oversight empowered national institution. This is important if we are to check on the government to ensure it continues to play its primary duty and obligation in realising human rights for all. – CSO Platform for Reform

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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