The national human rights commission (Suhakam) now has the power to “(d) to visit places of detention in accordance with procedures as prescribed by the laws relating to the places of detention and to make necessary recommendations”, according to Section 4(2)(d) of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999.
Suhakam chairman Rahmat Mohamad recently asked for the commission to be given the power to conduct unannounced visits to detention centres and prisons.
Rightfully, Suhakam should have the right to visit without prior notice any place of detention like police lock-up, immigration detention centres and prisons. There should be no requirement to comply with procedures relating to sudden spot checks at places of detention.
If a bad employer who has been illegally holding on to the passports of its migrant workers, gets prior information about a visit by the Ministry of Human Resources or police to verify these allegations, then the employer may ‘hide’ its crimes, maybe by returning passports to workers and warning or threatening workers to deny such allegations failing which they would risk retaliation.
Hence, when the law enforcers do visit the site to determine whether the allegations are true, they will find no evidence.
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Likewise, if Suhakam needs to inform first that it will be visiting a police station and the lock-up, it is most likely that when Suhakam commissioners do visit the site, they will not find it in the usual state.
Hence, the need to amend the law to make it clear that Suhakam commissioners and officers can do spot checks, without any requirement to give prior notice to the minister, the head of the relevant law enforcement department or others.
Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet) agrees that Suhakam must be given the right to do spot checks or visits without prior notification not just at places of detention, but also at the facilities of law enforcement like police stations or any other private or public facilities where Suhakam believes there may be a human rights violation.
Right to prosecute
Suhakam must also be given the right to investigate and prosecute wrongdoers, and not simply be limited to making necessary recommendations.
Even after Suhakam public inquiries concluded that law enforcers like the police or others had been responsible for crimes, we have not seen any necessary follow-up investigation and prosecution by the police or even the public prosecutor.
And, as such, it is important to bestow on Suhakam the power to investigate and prosecute crimes, without the requirement for any consent by the public prosecutor or the government.
Remove’s PM’s power
A major problem now is that the law says that “the members of the Commission shall be appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on the recommendation of the Prime Minister”.
There is a need to remove the PM’s power in the appointment of the Suhakam chairman and commissioners.
Often the government or public officers are the alleged violators of human rights.
As such, it is best that the appointment of commissioners be done by an independent body – not the PM, who is head of the government.
Maybe the committee that the prime minister now needs to consult before making recommendations to the King ought to directly make the recommendations to the King regarding the appointment of commissioners.
The composition of this committee itself also ought not to be determined by the PM.
Don’t appoint active politicians
Suhakam must be independent of the government, and thus the commissioners should not include those who are active in parties that are part of the government or in the opposition.
In the recent appointment of commissioners on 1 July through an announcement by the then PM (who was then also an Umno vice-president), several quarters raised concern about the appointment of Selayang Umno chief Hasnal Rezua Merican Habib Merican and Kulim Umno women’s division chief Nazira Abdul Rahman as Suhakam commissioners.
Umno is the dominant party in Barisan Nasional, which was part of the coalition government at the time of the appointment. It is again now a member of the current coalition government; the president of Umno is now the deputy PM.
Although Section 5 that does not specifically say that active politicians cannot be appointed as Suhakam commissioners, Section 11A(4) on the committee to be consulted with regard to appointments, states clearly:
The following persons shall not be appointed as members of the committee … (a) any person who is actively involved in politics and registered with any political party…
Thus, to ensure the independence of Suhakam commissioners, it would be best that no person “actively involved in politics and registered with any political party” be appointed commissioner, at least not those who have held or are holding office in political parties.
Madpet believes that political party members can be appointed as Suhakam commissioners, but not those who have held office in political parties in the past three years or who are currently holding office.
Politicians must resign
Are Hasnal Rezua Merican and Nazira Abdul Rahman, two of the eight currently appointed commissioners, still holding office or active in Umno? If they are, it seriously jeopardises the independence of Suhakam.
Madpet calls on Hasnal Rezua Merican and Nazira Abdul Rahman to immediately resign for the sake of human rights and to ensure the perception of Suhakam as a truly independent human rights commission, in compliance with the 1993 Paris Principles.
Madpet calls for a truly independent and active Malaysian human rights commission that will uphold the cause of human rights and justice without fear or favour, and that will bravely act and speak out even when the violator of human rights is the government, the minister or public officers. – Madpet
Charles Hector issued this statement on behalf of Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet)