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Suhakam chairperson’s defamation suit against staff places institution’s human rights mandate and integrity in jeopardy

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We, the undersigned civil society organisations and political parties, are alarmed by the defamation suit filed by the chairperson of the Malaysian human rights commission, Suhakam, Prof Rahmat Mohamad, against the deputy secretary of Suhakam, Shahizad Sulaiman, after the latter filed a formal complaint in Suhakam against the former on allegations of racial discrimination and abuse of power over a new staff appointment.

The formal complaint was lodged by Shahizad on 10 April under Section 12(1) of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act.

We have been duly informed that the legal suit filed by Prof Rahmat on 24 May constitutes an alleged attempt to circumvent internal investigations on the complaint, in light of Section 12(2) of the act that prohibits the national human rights institution from – or, in the case when investigations commence, [requires it] to cease –  inquiring into “any complaint relating to any allegation of the infringement of human rights which (a) is the subject matter of any proceedings pending in any court, including any appeals; or (b) has been finally determined by any court”.

The use of external legal mechanisms by the higher leadership in response to an internally filed complaint by a staff member, which by default should have been resolved within the institution, implies reprehensible power play.

The chairperson already had at his disposal the opportunity to undergo the internal processes in his attempt to obtain redress and due justice.

Thus, this act of filing a civil defamation suit by the chairperson may be further construed as a strategic lawsuit against public participation (Slapp) – an act that is highly likely to have been deliberately initiated with the intent to intimidate, drain financial resources or inflict psychological and emotional stress against the initial complainant.

READ MORE:  Suhakam commissioners must resign for failure to probe complaint against chairman - Madpet

The chairperson’s act, if not censured, can impose a climate of fear and deter whistleblowers who may have legitimate complaints from coming forward, thus potentially compromising institutional transparency, accountability and integrity – undesirable consequences which can only undermine the credibility and effective functioning of Suhakam.

The two allegations concerning the chairperson of Suhakam are also of grave concern, as they can put the national human rights institution’s human rights mandate at risk.

The allegation pertaining to racial discrimination is especially of prominent concern on two fronts.

First, it risks contravening corresponding provisions of non-discrimination, including on the basis of race, in the Federal Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – both of which form the cornerstones of Suhakam’s human rights mandate.

It is also noteworthy that this allegation may also breach Suhakam’s commitment to addressing racial discrimination as explicitly outlined in its 2021-2025 strategic plan.

Second, the racial discrimination allegation can jeopardise Suhakam’s A-status as a national human rights institution with which it was accredited in 2021, by violating the principle of plurality in the composition of the institution as set out in the Paris Principles.

As the bastion of human rights in the country that plays a pivotal role in promoting and mainstreaming human rights implementation and monitoring, it is crucial that Suhakam upholds its fundamental principles of non-discrimination, inclusivity, transparency and accountability for all sectors including its own staff.

As such, as it now becomes a matter of public interest, we strongly call upon:

  • Suhakam to disclose updates and measures undertaken to investigate the formal complaint filed on 10 April by the deputy secretary of Suhakam
  • Suhakam to set up an independent taskforce, comprising external stakeholders, that can fairly and independently investigate the aforementioned allegations against and retaliatory measures initiated by the chairperson, and
  • the chairperson, relatedly, to take leave from his duties pending the outcome of the investigation
READ MORE:  Failure to defend universal human rights: Responsibility of entire Suhakam, not just chair

Endorsed by:

  1. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram)
  2. Aliran
  3. All Women’s Action Society (Awam)
  4. Citizens Against Enforced Disappearances (Caged)
  5. Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)
  6. Justice for Sisters (JFS)
  7. Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM)
  8. Sisters in Islam (SIS)
  9. Student Progressive Front UUM (SPFUUM)
  10. Suara Siswa UUM
  11. Tunku Abdul Rahman Association of New Youth (Tarany)
  12. Teoh Beng Hock Trust for Democracy
  13. Undi18
  14. University of Malaya Association of New Youth (Umany)
  15. Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman Kampar Student Representative Council 22/23
  16. Voice Of Youtharian 优大青年之声
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.

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