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SUHAKAM’s Ability to Perform Its Function Is In Question With The New Chairperson and Commissioners

Press Statement

3rd July 2022

SUARAM expresses its concern and disappointment for the recent appointment of SUHAKAM chairperson and commissioners. We are of the view that these appointments made by the Prime Minister Ismail Sabri do not reflect the independence and core values of SUHAKAM as the national human rights institution (NHRI) of Malaysia. The opaque and controversial appointments of the commissioners are all the more disappointing given the fact that Malaysia has recently secured a seat in the United Nation’s Human Rights Council pledging to the international body that it will uphold human rights issues.

SUARAM have strong doubts that the newly appointed SUHAKAM chairperson, Prof. Dato’ Dr Rahmat bin Mohamad could carry out his duties to fulfil SUHAKAM’s mandate. He was reported to have opposed Malaysia from ratifying the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as he was one of the four academics who co-authored a paper which convinced the Conference of Rules in rejecting the Rome Statute. The paper was instrumental in forcing the PH government to pull out from ratifying the Rome Statute which undermines Malaysia’s commitment in the global peacekeeping mission. The academic views of Prof. Dato’ Dr Rahmat bin Mohamad on the Rome Statute might adversely affect SUHAKAM’s mandate because as it was stated in the SUHAKAM act, 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, the two other new commissioners were publicly known to be strongly affiliated with UMNO. Dato’ Hasnal Rezua Merican bin Habib Merican is the Chairperson of UMNO Selayang Branch, and Puan Nazira binti Abdul Rahim is the Chairperson of Women Division at UMNO Kulim and Bandar Baharu Branch and the current local councillor appointed by her party for Bandar Baharu. SUARAM maintains that both the chairperson and commissioners should be politically neutral to ensure SUHAKAM remains an institution independent from political influence and therefore is able to discharge its duties without fear and favour. By appointing 2 commissioners with substantial political influence, SUARAM is worried that the power given to SUHAKAM to inquire into human rights complaints and assisting 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 on 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 answer from SUHAKAM regarding the recognition of a third-gender research project and SUARAM is concerned whether appointing a former JAKIM director-general would again hamper SUHAKAM’s ability in conducting research that may prove to be sensitive and controversial to the executive branch, but completely align with SUHAKAM’s core objective in defending and promoting human rights in Malaysia.

Finally, the root of the controversial appointment stems from the 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 on the entire process. According to SUHAKAM Act 1999’s 11A(1)(c), a committee must first be formed to be consulted with regard to the appointment of commissioner and three members of the Committee must come from civil society who have knowledge of or practical experience in human rights matters. However, civil society is mostly unaware of the formation and composition of the committee and what are the selection criteria and meritocratic basis in appointing these new batch of commissioners. Therefore, it is only until the appointment process has been announced publicly where the identity 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 and public confidence of SUHAKAM. The Sub-Committee on Accreditation (SCA) of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institution (GANHRI) 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/or participation in the application, screening, selection, and appointment process. After decades of effort from past and present SUHAKAM staffs, SUHAKAM was finally recognized internationally to be a credible NHRI 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 is not practiced upon during the recent selection and appointment process which in turn produces commissioners that may not be equipped to fulfil the mandates of SUHAKAM.

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