Suhakam’s Tan Sri Hasmy Agam answers Your 10 Questions

  • Business
  • Saturday, 05 Feb 2011

Some people describe Suhakam as a toothless tiger. Is that so? Bulbir Singh, Seremban

I can understand the sense of frustration and disappointment at what the public perceive as a lack of assertiveness on the part of the commission in its role to protect and promote human rights. But we are essentially limited by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 (Act 597) which established Suhakam.

While the commission monitors human rights violations and responds to complaints as promptly as it can, it has no executive or enforcement power. It can only draw attention to these violations and make recommendations to the Government. It is entirely up to the Government to act on them. Several of these recommendations have been acted upon while many have not.

What was the most significant challenge you faced in presenting Malaysia's proposals on various issues to the United Nations?

Louis, Kuching

Suhakam has been actively participating in the UN Human Rights Council meetings. The commission submits both written and oral reports at the international arena to highlight the human rights situation in the country and make recommendations to the Government.

However, the challenge is persuading the Government to give serious consideration to these recommendations. There is also a need for the UN to improve its function and to accord a greater role to the national human rights institutions in the deliberations of the Human Rights Council. Malaysia will have to follow up on commitments made during the Universal Periodic Review process in the interest of its credibility and prestige in the council.

Sometime last year, the Government was mulling over the idea of allowing UNHCR refugees to work but we have yet to receive any news regarding this. What's the progress? Shazwi Shatar, Kuala Lumpur

There is, as yet, no decision by the Government to allow the refugees to legally seek work before they are relocated to another country. Malaysia has not acceded to the UN Convention on Refugees and currently there is no law governing asylum seekers and refugees in Malaysia, and their rights are very limited indeed. Nevertheless, as a responsible member of the international community, it should do what it could to alleviate the sufferings and deprivations of people under detention for immigration offences. Suhakam has been working with the UNHCR and non-governmental organisations to look into the plight of the refugees and to ensure that they are able to live with dignity while they are in Malaysia. Suhakam has urged the Government to improve the living conditions of the refugees and to ensure that their children are given the opportunity for education, as Malaysia has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

How can proper establishments and close monitoring of key performance indexes with fast reactions help to improve the performances of organisations? Bernard KH Lim, Penang

The Suhakam Act (as amended in 2010) requires the commission to formulate a set of Key Performance Index (KPI). Clearly, the KPIs are intended to set a benchmark for the commission's effectiveness and to keep up with the level of expectations of the public. Once finalised and implemented, these KPIs would serve as a good measurement of the performance of its commissioners and staff.

What is the level of awareness on human rights in third world countries? Tabitha

CC Boi, Penang

As human rights awareness is linked to a number of factors, such as poverty and the level of education of the people, it is not surprising for human rights awareness to be still very low in developing countries. In such a situation, inequality, social injustices and human rights violations continue to exist, compounded further by the existence of corruption and abuse of power.

The commission is against capital punishment and had recommended for it to be removed. How do you think we should rehabilitate a convict? Bisky Tee, Bandar Utama

Suhakam is against capital punishment as it is one of those human rights principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and other international human rights conventions. It is our hope that we would be able to do away with this inhumane form of punishment one day. Suhakam had recommended that the Government consider placing a moratorium on capital punishment with a view to abolishing it in the future.

Suhakam has made visits to prisons and undertaken legal research with a view to making recommendations on prison reform to ensure compatibility with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners.

There are already some mechanisms in place on the rehabilitation of prisoners by way of providing them with counselling, religious education and spiritual activities, as well as vocational training to better equip them with skills before re-entering mainstream society. Except, perhaps for some hardened criminals, many serving prison sentences could and should be rehabilitated. The important thing is for the prisoners, having served their sentences, to be given a second chance to resume their lives as citizens without being stigmatised by society.

Do you agree that Suhakam should evolve from merely being a think-tank to an empowered statutory body?

Chan Ngai Him, Puchong

I would like to stress that Suhakam is not a think-tank but a commission with a statutory mandate, although without enforcement power. We are currently studying the structure and organisation of a number of our counterparts in other countries with a view to finding a model that would best suit us and to make a proposal for amendments to our Suhakam Act in due course in the interest of making it more authoritative and effective.

Do you agree with the way the assembly of people in large crowds here are dispersed in Malaysia? Mohd Hisham Ahmad, Kelantan

Freedom of assembly is a fundamental principle of human rights and an essential element of democracy, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and our Federal Constitution. Peaceful public assemblies enable the people to voice out their views as citizens through constructive criticisms. However, more often than not, the people involved in these assemblies are considered anti-government. Yet, it is still a right to be respected as long as such assemblies are carried out in a peaceful manner. Most of the public inquiries that Suhakam had conducted in the past found that violations occurred due to police policy of “total denial” of assemblies and “domination” during crowd dispersal, that included the arrest of persons at the scene and the shabby treatment of arrested persons while in detention. Proportionate and non-violent methods should be employed when dispersing assemblies, especially in the use of canes and batons, tear gas and water canons. Warnings and ample time for peaceful dispersal should also be given. The police should also cooperate with the participants by allowing them to conduct their assemblies in as peaceful a manner as possible; hence the importance of the repeal of Section 27A of the Police Act that requires a permit application for assemblies.

Do you feel that the rights of women, especially in molestation and rape cases in Malaysia, are still below par?

Reginald Tan, Ampang, KL

Violence against women, especially in molestation and rape cases involving acquaintances, friends and relatives, is an impulsive crime and at times, go unreported. These are clear violations of the rights of women and girls to live with dignity. The Government, through the relevant ministries and agencies, is seriously looking into the issue. Suhakam is also involved in many of these consultations aimed at advising the Government on formulating appropriate laws governing the matter. As Malaysia is party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the Government is duty-bound to ensure the protection of the rights of these two vulnerable groups. Clearly, education plays a vital role in creating awareness and inculcating high moral/ethical values, including respect for the opposite gender. The introduction of the social and reproductive health education in the school curriculum is also a welcome initiative to prepare the younger generation for adulthood.

What is your hope for human rights in Malaysia? Do you think it can be achieved and what are the stumbling blocks?

Rajendran Paneer, Kuala Pilah

My hope is that in time, our human rights record would be on a par with the best in the world. As we aspire to be a developed nation by 2020, we should make every effort to revamp our laws that impinge on human rights to be fully in line with universal human rights principles. As a developed country, we will be judged by much higher and more rigorous standards. We should aim to be a developed nation not merely in the economic sense but in all aspects, including in relation to our observance of human rights. As a multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation, in which tolerance plays a crucial role for national harmony, we should go beyond tolerance towards acceptance of, and respect for, our social, cultural and religious “differences”. I think this is at the heart of the Prime Minister's 1Malaysia approach. The journey towards that destination is likely to be a long one but we have to begin the process now by effecting a paradigm shift, involving the discarding of old mindsets and patterns of thought, which might have served us well in the past, but are now obstacles to our development as a united and progressive nation.

We are encouraged by the fact that an increasing number of people, especially in urban areas, are aware of and assert their rights. Enforcement agencies should make a clear distinction between their duty to maintain national security, on one hand, and to protect and uphold the human rights of the people, on the other. Some space for the respect of human rights should be duly given and considered. The work of promoting and protecting human rights is not confined to the so-called “champions” or “advocates”, such as Suhakam. It is for all to lend their hands to.

Coming soon

Datuk Seri Zambry Abdul Kadir is the current Mentri Besar of Perak. At 49, this father of five stays fit by playing football (sometimes still in the striker position!) and by climbing hills.

Zambry plans to lift the Perak economy and has stated that the state will focus on its strong points, which include its natural resources. Zambry plans to create an additional 10,000 jobs annually with more emphasis on skilled and semi-skilled human capital. His other area of passion is to eradicate poverty and retain talent in Perak.

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