Suhakam’s ability to perform its function is in question with the new chairperson and commissioners

The credibility of Suhakam hangs in the balance

Suaram expresses its concern and disappointment over the recent appointment of the Suhakam chairperson and commissioners.

We are of the view that these appointments made by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob do not reflect the independence and core values of Suhakam as the national human rights institution of Malaysia.

The opaque and controversial appointments of the commissioners are all the more disappointing given that Malaysia has recently secured a seat in the UN Human Rights Council, pledging to the international body it would uphold human rights issues.

Suaram has strong doubts that the newly appointed Suhakam chairperson, Prof Rahmat Mohamad, can carry out his duties to fulfil Suhakam’s mandate.

He was reported to have opposed Malaysia’s plan to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as he was one of four academics who co-authored a paper which convinced the Conference of Rules to reject the Rome Statute.

The paper was instrumental in forcing the then Pakatan Harapan government to pull out from ratifying the Rome Statute, which undermines Malaysia’s commitment in the global peacekeeping mission.

The academic views of Prof Rahmat on the Rome Statute might adversely affect Suhakam’s mandate, because as stated in the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999, one of the main functions of Suhakam is to make recommendations to the government with regard to the subscription or accession of treaties and other international human rights instruments.

Secondly, two other new commissioners were publicly known to be strongly affiliated with Umno. Hasnal Rezua Merican Habib Merican is the chairperson of Selayang Umno and Nazira Abdul Rahim is the chairperson of the women’s division at Kulim and Bandar Baharu Umno and current local councillor, appointed by her party, for Bandar Baharu.

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Suaram maintains that both the chairperson and commissioners should be politically neutral to ensure Suhakam remains an institution independent from political influence and, therefore, able to discharge its duties without fear or favour.

With the appointments of two commissioners with substantial political influence, Suaram is worried that the power given to Suhakam to inquire into human rights complaints and assist the government in human rights legislation would be severely compromised.

For instance, if the Umno government is allegedly involved in human rights violations, questions would be rightly asked of Suhakam’s ability to hold an inquiry independently and whether the findings would be credible in the eye of the public and civil society.

Lastly, the appointment of the former director general of the Islamic Development Department (Jakim), Mohamad Nordin Ibrahim, also raises more questions.

Jakim had previously demanded answers from Suhakam regarding the recognition of a third gender research project, and Suaram is concerned whether the appointment of a former Jakim director general would again hamper Suhakam’s ability in conducting research that may prove sensitive and controversial to the executive branch, but completely align with Suhakam’s core objective of defending and promoting human rights in Malaysia.

Finally, the root of the controversial appointments stems from a lack of transparency and parliamentary oversight on the entire selection process of Suhakam commissioners.

Throughout the selection process, the public and civil society were left in the dark about the entire process.

According to Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999, Section 11A(1)(c), a committee must first be formed to be consulted regarding the appointment of commissioners, and three members of the committee must come from civil society who have knowledge of or practical experience in human rights matters.

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However, civil society is mostly unaware of the formation and composition of the committee and what the selection criteria and meritocratic basis were in appointing these new batch of commissioners.

It was only until the appointment process was announced publicly that the identities of the chairperson and commissioners were finally revealed, and the decision is presented as a fait accompli.

Therefore, the method of appointment of commissioners and the criteria for selection should be made more transparent to ensure the independence of and public confidence in Suhakam.

The sub-committee of accreditation (SCA) of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institution, which recently re-accredited Suhakam as an A-status institution has made it clear that the appointment process should include requirements such as promoting broad consultation and participation in the application, screening, selection and appointments process.

After decades of efforts from past and present Suhakam staff, Suhakam was finally recognised internationally to be a credible national human rights institution but we are afraid the recent appointments threaten to roll back the recent success Suhakam has achieved in making the institution more independent from the executive.

It also turns out that the idea of #keluargaMalaysia, which consists of inclusivity and common ground that the prime minister has espoused so much, is not applicable in the field of human rights in Malaysia.

It is indeed a sad day for human rights and Suhakam that the principles of public accountability and transparency were not practised during the recent selection and appointments process, which in turn produced commissioners who may not be equipped to fulfil the mandate of Suhakam.

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Sevan Doraisamy is executive director of Suaram



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