Why isn’t Malaysia publishing its human rights reports?

WE, the undersigned 11 organisations, demand clarity on the delay of the release of the 2020 and 2021 annual reports of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam). The long-delayed publication of these reports could derail the important work that Suhakam has conducted to be accredited as an A-status institution. The delay also undermines its commitment to protect and promote human rights in accordance with international human rights standards.

According to section 21(1) of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999, Suhakam shall submit an annual report to Parliament no later than the first meeting of Parliament of the following year. The 2020 report should have been submitted during the first Parliamentary session of 2021 at the latest. Similarly, the 2021 annual report should have been tabled in the first Parliamentary session of 2022; that session ended on March 24, 2022. To date, there have been no formal announcements or indications either from Suhakam or the government that the reports would be tabled during the next Parliamentary session, which is scheduled for July 2022.

The failure of Suhakam to follow the provisions of its own founding Act is worrying and raises concerns about how the organisation is operating and fulfilling its mandate. The government should also be held accountable for the delay in releasing the reports as it ought to be assisting Suhakam in offering time and space for the reports to be tabled and debated in Parliament.

We also express concern that the present government of Malaysia has become more confrontational and unsupportive of Suhakam fulfilling its mandate. In June 2021, the Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs criticised Suhakam in a post on its social media channels when the organisation announced a call for researchers to study the feasibility of recognising a third gender in Malaysia. The Islamic Development Department (Jakim) – another statutory body like Suhakam – also weighed in on the criticism and demanded an explanation from Suhakam over the study.

The present government has also paid little attention to Suhakam’s role in advising and assisting in legislation pertaining to human rights issues. The policy to amend the Suhakam Act to strengthen Suhakam’s capacity to receive and investigate complaints and allow Parliamentary oversight by the previous government has appeared to have slowed down under the present administration. Recommendations made by Suhakam to ensure greater police accountability and good governance were also not realised in the current government’s hastily-tabled Independent Police Conduct Commission Bill.

In addition, civil society organisations have noted that Suhakam has been operating without commissioners for more than a month, which would have a serious impact on fulfilling its mandates to protect and defend human rights in Malaysia.

All these recent developments hint at an increasingly strained relationship between Suhakam and the government, which may serve as one of the reasons for the delay of the annual reports.

The 2018 annual report was a good example of how the system should work: it was tabled in Parliament on April 11, 2019, and debated on Dec 5, 2019. However, the practice was not continued the following year, as the 2019 annual report was belatedly tabled in November 2020 and not debated. The law minister defended the government’s move to not table a Parliamentary motion to debate the report by saying there was insufficient time and that the report's content was not a priority for the government.

The situation has only taken a turn for the worse since then, with the 2021 and 2022 annual reports not even tabled in Parliament and therefore remaining embargoed from the public.

The consistent publication of an annual report is one of the major key indicators of the performance of a national human rights institution in protecting and promoting human rights in the country. In June 2021, Suhakam was re-accredited as an A-status institution by the subcommittee on accreditation of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institution. At that time, the subcommittee recommended that Suhakam advocate for greater transparency in the publication of its annual report, which should be publicly circulated, discussed and considered by the legislature.

We therefore urge the government of Malaysia and Suhakam to provide an explanation for the delay in publication of the 2020 and 2021 annual reports and ensure that they are both tabled and debated in the Malaysian Parliament as soon as possible.

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development

Suara Rakyat Malaysia Malaysia

Korean House for International Solidarity, South Korea

People’s Empowerment Foundation, Thailand

Bytes for All, Pakistan

Progressive Voice, Myanmar

Law and Society Trust, Sri Lanka

Odhikar, Bangladesh

Potohar Organisation for Development Advocacy, Pakistan

All India Network of NGOs and Individuals working with National and State Human Rights Institutions, India

Joint Action for NHRI (National Human Rights Institutions) and Optional Protocols in Japan, Japan

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human rights , transparency , legislature


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