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20th June 2023 — We refer to the National Human Rights Institution’s (SUHAKAM) statement on 16 June 2023, issued in response to Suara Rakyat Malaysia’s (SUARAM) press conference, exposing the civil defamation suit filed by the Chairperson against his staff member the Deputy Secretary.

SUARAM welcomes the Chairperson’s decision to withdraw the defamation suit and looks forward to seeing this decision immediately implemented. Whilst we also acknowledge the commitment to conduct an “independent and impartial internal investigation” by an independent body, SUHAKAM must ensure that the independent body must be external to SUHAKAM and have no vested interests with the institution or parties concerned in the defamation suit to ensure objectivity and fairness of investigations.

SUHAKAM’s “limited authority in investigating complaints against its own commissioners” is a classic case of “our hands are tied, but we’ll do what we can”. This begs important questions: are current internal complaint mechanisms for all members of SUHAKAM fair, efficient, transparent, confidential and include provisions that protect staff from retaliation? The statement also implies that the Chairperson will continue to enact his duties whilst the investigation is conducted. The defamation suit as a response to an internal complaint sent a chilling message – “toe the line, else you will pay dearly if you dissent”. Even after the suit is withdrawn, as long as the Chairperson remains in office, both actual and perceived risks of investigation processes being compromised will remain palpable. On that note, we thus:

  • renew our calls to the Chairperson to take garden leave from his duties pending the external investigation outcome, and;

  • • urge SUHAKAM to make transparent the external independent body that will be investigating allegations made by the Deputy Secretary against the Chairperson, with full disclosure of organisational interests.

As a national human rights institution that is also the guiding force behind the nation’s National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, SUHAKAM must demonstrate that accountability and transparency should not be half-baked endeavours.

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