Suhakam in danger of downgrade

KUALA LUMPUR: Suhakam, the Malaysian Human Rights Commission, risks an imminent international downgrade unless the Government acts immediately to amend the body’s founding laws and make it more independent.

Suhakam had recently been asked to explain in writing within a year why it should not be downgraded from Grade A to Grade B.

The downgrading, non-governmental organisations said, would be a slap in the face for Malaysia and Suhakam, which is hosting a four-day Asia-Pacific Forum on National Human Rights Institutions (APF) beginning tomorrow.

If downgraded, Suhakam loses its right to participate in United Nations Human Rights Council sessions. It would also be stripped of its full membership in APF and be relegated to a non-voting member.

“It will also make a mockery of Malaysia’s 2006 pledge to the UN that it will continue to take proactive and innovative measures to further promote and protect human rights,” said Jerald Joseph of Pusat Komunikasi Masyarakat (Komas).

The notice came from the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (ICC), which recently reviewed Suhakam’s human rights compliance and found it not up to par with the Paris Principles.

In 1993, the UN General Assembly adopted the Paris Principles which assigns Grade A status for full compliance, Grade B for observer status and Grade C for non-compliance.

The ICC in its report, urged a strengthening of Suhakam’s independence by clear and transparent appointment and dismissal processes.

The committee also noted that the two-year tenure for commissioners was too short, highlighted the need for representation of different segments of society as commissioners and the importance of engaging with international human rights systems.

Yesterday, 44 NGOs jointly called on the Government to immediately amend the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999.

“Suhakam has been confined by the provisions of the Act and has disappointingly fallen short in its mission to promote and protect human rights,” said Joseph in the statement.

The NGOs outlined six measures including getting Suhakam to report to Parliament instead of the Prime Minister’s Department, establishing an independent search committee and having clear criteria when selecting commissioners.