Has a gag been imposed on all   Suhakam Commissioners  and a campaign  needed to  protect and promote the human rights of Suhakam Commissioners to freedom of speech and expression?

Media Statement 
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Tuesday)A strange and eerie silence seems to have descended on the Suhakam Commissioners,  leaving many public queries about Suhakam  unanswered for the past six days  -  which is a most unusual phenomenon as one of the characteristics established by the Suhakam Commissioners in the past two years was their accessibility and  freedom in  their public views, comments and explanations.  Even the most vocal and articulate Commissioners in the first-term Suhakam have disappeared from the public domain although they have been re-appointed for another term. 

As a result Suhakam, which already faces a crisis of confidence sparked off by the highly controversial appointment of former Attorney-General Tan Sri Abu Talib as Chairman, the axing of the most industrious, conscientious and committed Commissioners like Tan Sri  Anuar Zainal Abidin, Mehrun Siraj and Datuk Dr. Salleh Mohd Nor and the stacking of the second-term Suhakam with former civil servants and a current public servant, now faces a second crisis of credibility for its front of silence, evasion and  sheer inability to respond to many pertinent issues and questions, such as: 

I was most surprised to read of a Malaysiakini report yesterday of the Suhakam response to my query about its cult of secrecy, as there had been  no news about its  decisions and plans of action after the  first meeting of the new Suhakam  last Friday, as compared to the  inaugural meeting of the first Suhakam under the chairmanship of Tan Sri Musa Hitam on April 24, 2000 which was followed by a   public announcement on the very same day that Suhakam had appointed four working groups to be responsible for Suhakam’s tasks and responsibilities and the Commissioners assigned to each group.

Suhakam secretary, Kamaruddin Mohd Baria, said there were “only minor changes” to the Suhakam  working groups, and although he admitted that the new commissioners were assigned their groups during last Friday’s Suhakam meeting, he declined to reveal any details. 

If there were “only minor changes” to the Suhakam working groups, why is Suhakam so shy of making them public? 

In any event, how could Kamaruddin talk about “only minor changes” to the working groups, when the Complaints and Inquiries Working Group had been crippled with the removal  of its three most active and committed members – Anuar, Mehrun and Salleh? 

The Suhakam Complaints and Inquiries Working Group was the target of the rage and greatest denigration by the government particularly because of its public inquiry and report on the Kesas Highway Incident on police abuses of power and human rights violations. Will the government reprisal against its three most conscientious and committed members, dropping them from re-appointment to Suhakam, reduce the new Complaints and Inquiries Working Group into a weak and compliant creature of the government?  

I also find it surprising that it was the Suhakam secretary and not Abu Talib, or Tan Sri Harun Hashim, the Suhakam Deputy Chairman or one of the Commissioners who gave the public response. 

It must be asked whether  a gag has  been imposed on all   Suhakam Commissioners and a campaign is needed to  protect and promote the human rights of Suhakam Commissioners to freedom of speech and expression! If the Suhakam Commissioners themselves have lost the fundamental human rights to freedom of speech and expression, how could they “protect and promote” the human rights of Malaysians? 

In this connection, Malaysians must be concerned about Suhakam setting an even worse example of accountability and transparency than the government. 

When meeting the press after chairing the first meeting of Suhakam last Friday, Abu Talib was  asked about criticism of his appointment by non-government organizations and opposition parties and his response was that  they were entitled to their views, saying: “I don’t want to comment on it”.  

This was his typical  attitude  when he was Attorney-General for 13 years from 1980 to 1993, but it is imperative that Abu Talib keep abreast with changing times, the  heightened public expectations for greater accountability and good governance and the completely different demands of his new office and responsibility. 

The attitude exhibited by Abu Talib is most  deplorable and totally unacceptable  for  the Suhakam Chairman to adopt as it will allow  the government to emulate when  responding to Suhakam statements and reports about human rights violations with a curt  “No comment” – which will defeat the whole purpose of the setting up Suhakam to protect and promote human rights and to hold the government to account for human rights abuses and violations. 

Clearly, the first task of the second Suhakam is to lay down a clear and enlightened policy of public accountability and transparency and to remove the gag on Suhakam Commissioners from continuing to freely speak their minds and express their views.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman