We, the eight undersigned organisations and groups, are perturbed that the Malaysian human rights commission, Suhakam, has ceased to function when the term of office of the previous chairman and Suhakam commissioners came to an end on 27 April; to date, no new chairperson and commissioners have been appointed.
Without any human rights commissioners, Suhakam cannot play the vital role it has been playing in Malaysia. They can make no Suhakam statements and recommendations to the government or even hold public inquiries. Human rights suffer.
A media report on 11 May stated that the “Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) is conducting an investigation into alleged human rights violations against junior doctors at public hospitals in Malaysia”.
This raises a fundamental question: how can Suhakam, with no commissioners at present, even make such a statement? Suhakam employees reasonably cannot act on their own if and when there are no commissioners.
Suhakam is a statutory body, created by the Human Rights Commission Of Malaysia Act 1999, and the commission is made up of the appointed commissioners, appointed for a three-year term.
When there are no commissioners, as had been the case for the past month, Suhakam ceases to function and will not be able to do anything, including issuing statements and appointing and providing directions to Suhakam’s staff or employees.
Noting the important role that Suhakam has been playing in Malaysia in the promotion and defence of human rights, it is an embarrassment for Suhakam to find itself in a comatose stage through the failure of the government to ensure that Suhakam always has commissioners.
It must be pointed out that the process of identifying and selecting new Suhakam commissioners began in October 2021, and so the failure to appoint a chairperson and new commissioners by the end of the term of previous commissioners on 27 April [is unacceptable].
The choice of the future chairperson and Suhakam commissioners is crucial – for that determines the future functioning and effectiveness of this national human rights institution.
In the past, from the birth of Suhakam, its effectiveness was not so evident but it changed after Hasmy Agam (2010-2016) and later, Razali Ismail (2016-2019) were appointed as chairpersons of Suhakam. This strong effective Suhakam continued until April 2022.
The number of commissioners who will act without fear or favour for human rights in Suhakam – for all decisions of Suhakam require consensus, failing which a decision by a two-thirds majority of the members present at meetings shall be required.
If the wrong kinds of commissioners are appointed, we may end up with a less vocal, possibly ‘pro-government’ Suhakam who may be disinclined to speak up when required or to even hold public inquiries – more so when the alleged perpetrators may be state or state officers.
If the wrong chairperson and commissioners are chosen, there may be no more public inquiries on matters of human rights, like:
- the public inquiry into the disappearances Of Joshua Hilmy And Ruth Sitepu
- the public inquiry into the disappearance of Pastor Raymond Koh and Amri Che Mat
- the public inquiry into the incidents during and after the public assembly of 28 April 2012
- the public inquiry into the infringement of human rights, including the use of excessive force prior to and during the assembly on 9 July 2011
- the public inquiry into the arrest and detention of five lawyers of the Kuala Lumpur Legal Aid Centre on 7 May 2009
- the public inquiry into the allegation of excessive use of force by law enforcement personnel during the incident of 27 May 2008 at Persiaran Bandar Mahkota Cheras 1, Bandar Mahkota Cheras, and
- inquiries into deaths in custody
The days when Suhakam was effectively an independent organisation which investigates complaints of violations of human rights may come to an end.
We hope that the members of the commission appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, on the recommendation of the prime minister, are done without any more delay.
Charles Hector released this statement for and on behalf of the eight groups below:
- Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet)
- Greenpeace Malaysia
- International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW AP)
- Network of Action for Migrants in Malaysia (NAMM)
- Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM)
- Teoh Beng Hock Trust for Democracy
- Workers Hub For Change (WH4C)