(Suhakam – has it been the desired shield against breach of human rights in Malaysia? Logo source: Suhakam)
Suhakam outgoing Chairman Abu Talib Othman must feel like he’s caught between a rock and a hard place. Civil society scorn Suhakam as a toothless tiger. The government, for the most part, ignores it recommendations
No big surprise there.
The former AG who has helmed the commission after Musa Hitam has stated the obvious.
But if you ask me, the creation of Suhakam – a human rights commission that was created by an act of law in 1999 has been a big mystery to me. There has been breach of human rights in Malaysia from the very first day when the draconian Internal Security Act was wrongly used against political “problems”. I really wondered – how could Mahathir ever agreed on the creation of the commission.
The mystery somehow was resolved when I looked up at the entry in Wikipedia which states:-
Having being established after the fallout of the Anwar Ibrahim controversy, its creation may have been due to the then Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Muhammad’s desire to exercise damage control.
As documented in the online newspaper Malaysiakini, there was a great deal of trepidation about it being a pure whitewash of Dr. Mahathir’s policies
So, from day 1, Suhakam was nothing but a wayang kulit to quiet down the growing critics on the government? Let’s see what Suhakam suppose to do:-
The functions of SUHAKAM as set out in Section 4(1) are:-
1. To promote awareness of and provide education relating to human rights;
2. To advise and assist Government in formulating legislation and procedures and recommend the necessary measures to be taken;
3. To recommend to the Government with regard to subscription or accession of treaties and other international instruments in the field of human rights;
4. To inquire into complaints regarding infringements of human rights.
Whilst it looks good on paper, there has been some dissatisfaction by the common man with Suhakam when it comes to discharging it’s duties under function no. 4. Abu Talib said that the Government ignores its recommendations but then again, this is nothing new, isn’t it?
The commission’s recommendations under Musa, however, were often not implemented by the government. When his term ended, and he did not seek a reappointment, it was speculated that he chose not to out of disgust for the lack of action from the government.
That was way back in 2002. In 2010, nothing much has changed and we are pretty sure that it will continue to be so in 2020 (unless of course, Pakatan Rakyat forms the next Government or God appeared in PM’s dreams and told him to implement the recommendations or else).
Whenever there is a breach of human rights and the matter is reported to the commission, we get to see the Suhakam commissioner running off to the scene of the crime, checking on the matter, giving press interviews and promises to “talk” to the government on how to resolve the matter. They may even publish the findings for public views (see the list here and here). But in the end, nothing much happens.
We need to accept the fact that Suhakam can meet and come up with thousand and one recommendations to improve on human rights level in Malaysia but until these recommendations can be implemented by the Government, Suhakam is just wasting time, money and resources. At the most, they are being “used” by the Government to show to the rest of the world that Malaysia too has a human rights commission but the usage of the commission stops there.
In the 2009 annual report, Suhakam said:-
We recommended the repeal of the Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA), review of the Printing Presses and Publications Act, Section 27 of the Police Act and the Official Secrets Act, and abolition of the death penalty and natural life sentence.
We advocated incorporation of human rights standards in legislation, policy and practice; the introduction of a National Human Rights Action Plan; that major bills should be referred to a Select Committee of Parliament and State Assembly; and the right to citizenship, development and a free and fair election.
We also urged the Government to accede to and observe various human rights instruments and treaties, and protect the vulnerable groups and minorities.
It remains, however, a challenge to encourage the Government to implement our recommendations, which by their nature are not generally high on the political agenda
On the same note, whilst Suhakam credited the Government for implementing “some” of its recommendations, it also said this (in a rather sad note):-
The issues that preoccupied SUHAKAM in 2009 were almost the same that greeted us in all the preceding years, namely Police inaction, abuse of power, excessive use of force, selective investigations, deaths in Police custody, selective enforcement of the law, ISA, arbitrary arrest and detention, denial of rights to ancestral land, issues relating to religious converts, and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and fair election.
We found some of the complaints to be legitimate and we advised the relevant agencies of our findings with recommendations for redress. It would appear that to many Government employees the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is very remote from their everyday working lives.
Suhakam is not alone on this one.
If one trace back to many commissions (famous during Pak Lah’s time), committees, councils that has been created in the past to look into problems, tragedies and other improvement methods, just how many of the “recommendations” that has been implemented by the Government – recommendations that would mean a big change on how the Government goes about doing its business.
It is no wonder many citizens regarded Suhakam as nothing more than a toothless tiger when it comes to gross abuse of human rights.
If Suhakam really want the Government to sit up and listen to its recommendations, the best way to go about it is for Suhakam to simply close shop and ask the members to go back and do something better at home.
Perhaps then, overburden with criticism on how the Government conduct itself when it comes to human rights (and perhaps strong message by the people via the electoral), the Government might just take a look at Suhakam’s recommendations and get to implement them in an effective manner.