Suhakam in limbo with no new chairman, commissioners, say NGOs

PETALING JAYA: After more than a month of operating without a new chairman and commissioners, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) cannot play its role effectively in defending human rights in Malaysia, say several civil society groups.

In a statement Friday (May 27), eight non-governmental organisations (NGOs) urged the government to appoint new members to spearhead Suhakam without delay.

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“We are perturbed that Suhakam ceased to function when the term of office of the previous chairman and commissioners came to an end on April 27.

“To date, no new chairman and human rights 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 statements, recommendations to the government or even hold public inquiries.

“We hope that the appointments of members of the commission by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on the recommendation of the Prime Minister are done without any more delay,” the statement read.

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The eight NGOs that signed the statement are Aliran, Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture, Greenpeace Malaysia, International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific, Network of Action for Migrants in Malaysia, Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia and the Teoh Beng Hock Trust for Democracy.

The groups said the choices of the people to lead Suhakam were crucial towards determining the future and effectiveness of the national human rights institution.

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“In the past, from the birth of Suhakam, its effectiveness was not so evident but it changed after Tan Sri Hasmy Agam (2010-2016) and later Tan Sri Razali Ismail (2016-2019) were appointed as the chairmen.

“Commissioners who will act without fear or favour for human rights within Suhakam are also crucial, as all decisions require a consensus.

“Failing which, the decision by a two-thirds majority of the members present at meetings shall be required,” the NGOs said.

The group also warned of the possibility that the “wrong kinds” of commissioners would be appointed to Suhakam.

“If the wrong kinds of commissioners are appointed, we may end up with a less vocal Suhakam that may be disinclined to speak up when required, or even hold public inquiries, more so when the alleged perpetrators may be the state or state officers.

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“There may be no more public inquiries into matters of human rights like the disappearances of Joshua Hilmy, Ruth Sitepu, Pastor Raymond Koh and Amri Che Mat,” the statement said.

The last Suhakam chairman was former Foreign Ministry secretary-general Tan Sri Othman Hashim, who was appointed in 2019.