DAP grades C+ for  Suhakam performance to “protect and promote” human rights and calls for re-appointment of Anuar and Mehrun

Media Statement 
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Thursday): Suhakam’s first Chairman, Tan Sri Musa Hitam yesterday rated the performance of Suhakam in its first two years under his chairmanship as B++ as the acronym Suhakam has become a household word within two years and "We have  managed to sensitise those in power with the need to care for the human rights aspects in their jobs”. (AFP).  

I do not think anyone of the 33 NGOs which submitted a “Memorandum on the National Human Rights Commission” to the government after its announcement in April 1999 to establish Suhakam would grade Suhakam’s performance in its first two years as B++ and it would be interesting if the NGO human rights community, collectively and individually, should grade the  performance of the first two-year term of Suhakam.  

Several NGOs, including Hakam, Suhakam and Aliran,   will hold a meeting in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow to discuss the latest appointments to Suhakam, especially the choice of former Attorney-General Tan Sri  Abu Talib Othman as the new Suhakam Chairman.  Would Hakam, Suaram and Aliran award B++ to Suhakam for its performance to protect and promote human rights in the past two years?  

My tentative grading for Suhakam for the past two years is at most C+ (subject to the second Suhakam annual report) and I am told that I am already being over-generous.  

My grading of C+ for Suhakam’s performance in its first two years is thanks largely to two Suhakam reports, the 32-page  report on freedom of assembly and the  66-page inquiry  report  on the November 5, 2000 Kesas Highway Incident, both made public in August last year.  

The report on freedom of assembly  by the Suhakam Law Reform Working Group headed by Puan Mehrun Siraj made  short-term and long-term recommendations based on the findings and best practices in other countries and through discussion with the Police and other interested parties like political parties and NGOs.  For the short-term, it  recommended the simplification and automatic approval of police permits for static assemblies, while for the long-term, it recommended the amendments of various laws like the Police Act to remove undue restrictions on the right to freedom  of assembly.  

The Suhakam report on its inquiry into the Kesas Highway Incident, by its  Complaints and Inquiries Working Group headed by Tan Sri Anuar Zainal Abidin and Mehrun Siraj, contained detailed and specific findings on the use of excessive and unnecessary force and the widespread violation of human rights by the police, together with recommendations to ensure that the police, in discharging their police roles,  are always mindful of their duty  to promote and protect human rights.  

Suhakam would deserve a higher grading to B if the these two Suhakam reports had brought about positive changes strengthening the human rights culture in the country.  In actual fact, these two Suhakam reports had been completely ignored by the government and the police, with worse violations to human rights, including  the right to free and peaceful assembly as in the blanket ban on political ceramahs, as well resulting in the axing of the two most outstanding Suhakam Commissioners when  Anwar and Mehrun were  dropped from re-appointment to  the second Suhakam term.  

The axing of Anuar and Mehrun is a gross violation of the  Paris Principles adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993 to provide a framework with the requisite standards to best ensure an effective national human rights institution as the present appointment process  undermines and compromises the independence, credibility, integrity and authority of Suhakam.  

Can the government give reasons why Anuar and Mehrun have  been dropped from Suhakam when they were the two most distinguished and outstanding Suhakam Commissioners in the past two years to  discharge Suhakam’s statutory duty to protect and promote human rights?  

The appointment of the five new Commissioners, four former  civil servants and one current civil servant, is most unsatisfactory as it will foster  a subservient  government mentality in Suhakam.  

It also contravenes the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 which provides that commissioners should be appointed from “prominent personalities…from various religious backgrounds”, which has not been observed. 

As the NGO human rights community and Malaysians concerned about human rights are most alarmed at the victimisation of Anuar and Mehrun for their conscientious and outstanding contributions as Suhakam commissioners to protect and promote human rights, DAP calls on the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad to reappoint them as Commissioners as there are still seven vacancies in the present 13-member Suhakam, which is allowed to have 20 Commissioners.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman