The four-day limbo without any Suhakam commissioner in the country underlines the urgent need for Cabinet Ministers to undergo intensive human rights education to have proper appreciation and respect for the statutory responsibilities of Suhakam to protect and promote human rights
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): For four days, there was not a single Human Rights Commissioner in the country, as the two-year term of the second Suhakam Board of Human Rights Commissioners expired last Saturday without any appointment until yesterday.
The four-day limbo without any Suhakam commissioner in the country underlines the urgent need for Cabinet Ministers to undergo intensive human rights education to have proper appreciation and respect for the statutory responsibilities of Suhakam to protect and promote human rights, as the four-year history of Suhakam has shown that the Cabinet is its weakest source of support in the country, when it should be the strongest.
Ministers hampered and obstructed the human rights work of Suhakam in the past four years, refusing to accord it the fullest co-operation – and worst of all, in the past four years, set the contemptuous tone followed by the Barisan Nasional-dominated Parliament towards Suhakam, refusing to give its reports and recommendations to protect and promote human rights the seriousness they deserve – without a single one of its over a dozen Suhakam reports having been debated by the last Parliament!
Government sources have given the excuse that the four-day limbo without any Suhakam commissioners was due to the recent transfer of Suhakam from the jurisdiction of the Foreign Affairs Ministry to the Prime Minister’s Department, with Datuk Seri Najib Razak taking over responsibility from Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar for the Suhakam portfolio.
Najib had set a bad example of “First World” competence, efficiency and productivity when he deprived the country of Human Rights Commissisoner for four days although he had ample time of a month to decide on the new appointments.
The announcement of the new appointments for the third batch of Suhakam commissioners is doubly disappointing, not only for failing to make the proper nominations to restore public confidence in a meaningful Suhakam, but also for demonstrating that there was no good reason why Najib had not been able to make timely appointments to avoid a four-day hiatus for the functioning of Suhakam.
If the Deputy Prime Minister could bungle in such a simple but public matter, it raises the question as to what other major or mega-bungles Cabinet Ministers are capable of, away from the public limelight.
It is clear from the third batch of Suhakam appointments that Najib basically accepted the proposals which Hamid had decided on before the transfer of jurisdiction – to appoint two diplomats and a woman activist as the only new faces, which merit two observations.
Firstly, why was the Malaysian ambassador to France Datuk Tunku Nazihan Tunku Mohd Rus appointed as a Suhakam commissioner, when her tour of duty requires her to be in Paris? This is not questioning her human rights credentials, competence or qualifications as a Suhakam commissioner. If she is to be appointed to Suhakam, it should be after she had completed her overseas postings and returned to the country. Why is the Suhakam appointments biased in favour of diplomatic personnel?
Secondly, why didn’t Najib take the opportunity of being the Minister responsible for Suhakam to comply with internationally-recognised principles concerning the status, powers and functioning of national human rights commissions embodied in the Paris Principles endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993, by consulting the Opposition and civil society on appointment of Suhakam commissioners?
One of the fundamental features of the Paris Principles calls for an independent appointments procedure which is transparent and consultative with civil society groups in the country to maximize the likelihood of committed and active appointees to the commission.
DAP had suggested for instance that Najib should consider appointing as new Suhakam commissioners distinguished personalities like Param Cumaraswamy, Raja Aziz, Zainur Zakaria, Ramdas Tikamdas, Chandra Muzaffar and Dr. Chen Man Hin. Can Najib explain why he has not given this matter any thought at all?
In the past four years, Suhakam and its various reports had been lying in the archives collecting dust. There were Barisan Nasional MPs who did not even deign to open let alone read the Suhakam reports presented in Parliament, emulating the contempt reserved for Suhakam by the Foreign Minister, Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, the Minister then responsible for the Human Rights Commission. As a result, the last Parliament completely failed in its duty to oversee the Suhakam in its statutory responsibility to protect and promote human rights.
There should be a new beginning with Parliament giving top priority to Suhakam reports and functions – with a wide-ranging debate on human rights once a year centred on Suhakam’s annual report.
Is Najib prepared to provide this leadership in Parliament by ensuring that special time will be allocated when Parliament meets next month to specifically debate the over-a-dozen reports which Suhakam had issued in the past four years but which had hitherto been conspicuously ignored by both the Cabinet and Parliament?
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman & Member of Parliament for Ipoh Timor