KUALA LUMPUR: Amendments to the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) Act will strengthen the watchdog's authority and give it more bite, says Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said.
The Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Law and Institutional Reform) said the amendments will be a good foundation for the Suhakam Act, giving "teeth" to the human rights body that's often been criticised as toothless in previous years.
"We agreed that Suhakam should have fangs but before that, it needs to grow teeth," she said, adding that now that the amendments have been passed, the "teeth will turn into fangs".
She also thanked MPs for their support to the proposed amendments, saying that hopefully, the new Suhakam Act will strengthen human rights protection in Malaysia.
"A country's greatness is how it dignifies the rights and freedom of its people," Azalina said during her winding-up speech on the second reading of the Suhakam (Amendment) Act 2023 in Parliament on Wednesday (Nov 29).
She also said the amendments will send a message to the world that Malaysians and its politicians are united on issues pertaining to human rights.
Amendments to the Suhakam Act were later passed with a voice vote after Azalina's winding-up speech.
Earlier, 19 MPs spoke on the matter, including Sim Tze Tzin (PH-Bayan Baru), who said the Suhakam Act had always been criticised by the Opposition before for being a "toothless tiger".
"I congratulate the unity government, especially the de facto law minister, who saw through the amendments from the beginning. The Act was amended to strengthen Suhakam and was an institutional reform pledge by the Madani government," he said.
Sim also praised the government for ensuring amendments to the Act were substantive.
Lee Chean Chung (PH-Petaling Jaya) said the amendments showed the government's will in strengthening protection for human rights, particularly for children.
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"It also strengthens the function of Suhakam as an independent body that protects and promotes basic human rights in this country," he said.
Among the amendments to the Suhakam Act is that the human rights body will now have the power to visit any detention centre or location to probe human rights abuse allegations.
Amendments to Section 4(2)(e) will also allow Suhakam to receive complaints directly from children or any person or authority related to children's complaints and to act on such complaints.
Additionally, there must be a minimum of seven and not more than 20 members in Suhakam.
One of the commissioners appointed has to be a person with disabilities while 30% of the remaining members must be made up of women.
A new Section 6A will be introduced to provide for the appointment of a Chief Children Commissioner and two Children Commissioners from among Suhakam members.
Under the new Section 10B, a commissioner may be suspended from office pending outcome of the probe.
The three-panel investigating tribunal shall recommend to the Prime Minister that the commissioner in question be removed if a breach of conduct was found to have been committed.