Two parliamentary innovations if Abdullah is serious about Parliament's role vis--vis Suhakam and human rights - establish an all-party parliamentary committee on human rights and an annual debate on Suhakam reports

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): The Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said yesterday that the government had never stopped debates on human rights issues in Parliament and that if discussions are raised, the government would give a reply.

Commenting on statements that Suhakam reports and proposals are not given attention or debated in the Dewan Rakyat, Abdullah said that what was important was that the proposals must be constructive to be given attention and for action to be taken.

Abdullah was not giving a true picture and was only trying to gloss over the shabby treatment of Suhakam reports and recommendations by both the government and Parliament.

In the first place, Members of Parliament of Barisan Nasional despite its overwhelming two-thirds majority are distinguished by the total and unadulterated indifference and disinterest about human rights in general and Suhakam in particular.

Issues raised by Opposition MPs in Parliamrent are invariably ignored or at most given inconsequential responses.

A classic example is the recent budget debate during the committee stage of the Foreign Ministry, which is responsible for Suhakam, on October 24, 2002. The only MP to speak on the Suhakam reports and recommendations was the DAP MP for Tanjong, Chow Kon Yeow, who in the 10 minutes allotted to him, raised what the Musa Hitam Suhakam regarded as its "two major proposals" at the end of its two-year term, viz:

  • Recommendations for amendments to the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 to address the limitations and ambiguities of the existing law on Suhakam; and
  • Proposal for the government to start developing a National Human Rights Plan of Action to help improve the promotion and protection of human rights in Malaysia by placing human rights improvements in the context of public policy. This is to enable the government and the civil society to endorse human rights improvements as practical goals, devise programmes and allocate resources to achieve the National Human Rights Plan of Action, covering areas such as the ratification of international standards, an improved rule of law, a better functioning electoral system, improved linkage between human rights and development and protection of vulnerable groups.

The response given by the Deputy Foreign Minister, Dr. Leo Michael Toyad, to Chow's speech was a total wash-out, throwing no light whatsoever on the two "major proposals" of the Musa Hitam Suhakam.

Is Abdullah able to enlighten the Malaysian public with regard to the government's position on these two major proposals out of a long list of recommendations which have been made by the Musa Hitam Suhakam?

As Abdullah said that what was important was that the Suhakam proposals must be constructive to be given attention and for action to be taken, can Abdullah direct that a full list of the Musa Hitam Suhakam proposals in the past two years be made public, with the government ticking off as to whether each proposal qualifies the government's assessment of being "constructive" and the status of the government's action on such "constructive" proposals?

If Abdullah is serious about the government and Parliament's role vis--vis Suhakam and human rights, then he should introduce two parliamentary innovations, viz: the establishment of an all-party parliamentary committee on human rights to monitor the human rights situation in the country and an annual parliamentary debate on Suhakam reports. This will be pro-active good governance in action. The ball is in Abdullah's court.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman